#1072: “My future mother-in-law interrogates me when I want to change clothes before leaving the house.”

Hi Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.

I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:

Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]

Me: I’ll just change!

Her: Why?

Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.

Her: But why?

Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?

Her: Whyever not?

Me: . . .

Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.

I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?

– At a Loss

(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)

Hi there, I could use a real low-stakes question today, so, thank you!

Here’s my small In-Laws Comedy Of Manners from a recent visit, for your enjoyment. I keep forgetting that in Texas/my in-laws’ family culture “I guess it’s time to head out, thanks so much for having us” means “Let’s chat for at least another 30 minutes.” More than once last month I found myself out by the car, with shoes and coat on and all my stuff in hand, having given every single person at the gathering a hug and a heartfelt individual goodbye (I promise), wondering “What now? Do I wait? Mr. Awkward has the car keys, though. Do I go back in? How long do I wait? Do they think I’m rude? If I go back in, will I have to say hello and then goodbye to everyone again? I guess I’ll just wait? Shit, it’s cold.” By about the 6th day out of 7, I figured out that I should not to actually leave the house until Mr. Awkward left the house. I will probably forget this and have to re-learn it next time I’m there.

Anyway, you’re a grown-ass woman who does not need permission from anyone to change clothes if you want to, so here’s your new script for “Time to head to dinner!”:

Current You: “I’ll just go change!”

Future You: “Great!” + get up and move quickly toward the room where you will change. Don’t inform them of what you’re doing, just do it.

If you absolutely can’t avoid a discussion of some kind:

Future MIL: “Where are you going? Why?”

Future You“I need a sec to get ready. ” “Because I want to!” “I need to stop by the bathroom for a minute.” 

Use a cheerful tone and always be in motion. No time to talk! You’ve got to hurry up and get changed! You’re a grown-ass woman who wants to change clothes and that’s a good enough reason! There is a freedom in being an adult and figuring out that you don’t have to fix or feel any kind of way about an awkward exchange.

There’s a lot of other stuff you could try to work this out with your mom. I’ll save all y’all some commenting time and list it:

  • Grabbing your clothes and changing in the bathroom. It’s normal to use the bathroom before you leave someplace. You were just using the bathroom!
  • Not wearing pajamas inside in the first place if you sense there are plans afoot. “Oh thanks but I’m more comfortable like this.” Exist in a state of readiness at all times! CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
  • Checking in with her and fiancé about the schedule for the day ahead of time. “Any plans later I should know about?” 
  • Reminding them respectfully that you don’t like wearing loungewear outside and that you need more minute warning if you’re going to leave the house. (It’s been 4-5 years, this should not be a surprise. To anyone.)
  • Asking your fiancé to explain, again, that you just like changing to street clothes and tell her to stop being so weird.
  • Own it as a personal quirk, like “Sorry, I’m just weird like that, thanks for understanding.” 
  • Have your own transportation and tell ’em you’ll meet ’em there.
  • Resist the unplanned outings altogether, like, “Hey, I’m not ready and it’s going to take me a minute. Why don’t you all go ahead and enjoy yourselves and I’ll just relax with my book!”
  • “Wow you are being pretty weird about this, I didn’t realize putting on a different shirt would freak you out. Still gonna change, though! See you in a sec.”
  • + 100 more little scripts and strategems, etc. etc. etc. etc.

If this all sounds like too much work, yes, it is. Do whatever. Have whatever talk you want (or don’t have it). IT DOESN’T MATTER.

Why it doesn’t matter what you do or say: None of this is about you. It’s all about your future MIL and some internal weirdness she has going on that’s not your problem to solve or figure out.

Let me explain:

There’s a strong chance that after you insist on changing your future MIL comments along the lines of  “you’re making everyone late” or “I guess we’ll just have to WAIT for you to change” or “Look at Beyoncé here with the costume changes” or “We’re gonna miss the previews and whose fault is that?” 

If she does this in addition to the weird interrogations, please trust that is a manifestation of her own anxieties or need for control or whatever you want to call her personal weirdness around this topic. Maybe you changing is making her have a “Wait, does that mean I should change clothes? Is she judging me? Well I’m not changing! People who love me love me as I am spiral. Maybe it’s a subtextual message, like “In OUR FAMILY we are COOL and SPONTANEOUS and I’m not sure YOU & your insistence on WAISTBANDS are really fitting in with OUR FAMILY.” Maybe she’s one of those women who interrupts online conversations about skincare and makeup to tell everyone she NEVER! WEARS! MAKEUP! and you changing clothes before you go out is a signifier that she needs to raise your consciousness (by boring you to death about it). Who knows?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. It’s literally not your problem. Treat it with the same importance and attention as you would a random cloud floating by on a sunny day. Observe the behavior from a great distance, mentally say “hrmmmmm, how interesting, that thing is happening again” and don’t worry about it any more. You want to change clothes, so, people can either wait or leave without you. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like something you do or if you don’t do it the exact same way they would do it.

I say this as a soon to be 44-year-old adult who was raised by a woman who spent decades asking everyone – me, my dad, my brothers, the dog – “Is (pregnant pause) that…what you’re wearing?” right as we are at the putting-on-coats-to-leave stage of leaving the house. It didn’t matter WTF we were wearing, especially since a) we clearly were already wearing it and b) in the case of my dad she had most likely purchased, laundered, and ironed every item of clothing he had on. What mattered was that Mom was having some kind of anxious feelings about going somewhere or seeing people or how her family’s personal style would reflect on her, so she externalized those feelings onto whoever was around at the moment. In my Goth-Like-The-Prime Minister_of-Spain’s-Teen-Daughters* days, I would inevitably give her the fight she was trying to pick and we’d yell and slam doors. When I was about 35 (and still mostly dressed like the Spanish PM’s daughters now that I think about it), I stopped fighting and instead said “Weird, why would you ask me that? Because I’m not going to change clothes, but it does make me feel crappy and angry at you and not excited to be here with you.”

After that conversation, I-

:looks down at current outfit

-kept right on wearing minimalist black clothing and comfortable shoes. What changed was that I also tried to have compassion for my Mom’s anxiety while ignoring the annoying behavior, and lo and behold, it stopped.

By “ignoring the behavior” I mean, I literally ignored it:

Mom: “Is THAT what you’re wearing?” 

36-38 Year-Old-Me: “You look really nice! Are we taking your car or Dad’s?” 

I highly recommend this strategy if you’ve never tried it before. It can take a couple tries but then you can actually see the person think the question and grudgingly decide not say it. Victory! And then with some more time and patience, they often stop even thinking it or asking it in the first place. The pattern gets disrupted and everyone finds a new way to interact. 43-year-old me was just home for a party in December and was told “Well, you look very nice!” on our way out the door. Was I tempted to dramatically faint or ask her to repeat herself? Of course. I’m 43, I’m not dead. Will I take the win, where something that used to really upset me about my relationship with my Mom is not upsetting anymore? Oh yes, with all my heart.

Letter Writer, from now on try saying “Oh, we’re going for drinks? How fun, I’ll be right back.” + change outfits + ignore any subsequent weirdness to the best of your ability. Ask lots of pleasant questions about the place you’re going to. Stare out the window at the clouds and let your partner carry the conversation and run interference for you. If your future mother-in-law escalates the weirdness, attacks you (or her son) and just won’t let it go, take it as confirmation that it was 100% her strange issue all along and your slightly different clothing is not the problem.

Speaking up and advocating for yourself is an important life skill! So is detaching from situations that are about someone else’s projection and internal weirdness. To me, this situation is one for the “lalala I’m not listening” files.

*#ILoveThem #NeverForget #Heroines

319 thoughts on “#1072: “My future mother-in-law interrogates me when I want to change clothes before leaving the house.”

  1. For a sec I was confused how the King of Spain’s kids grew up so fast – those are actually the former prime minister’s daughters! Not that important, but I just wanted to spend a moment mourning that instead of socialist and feminist Zapatero we now have conservative nightmare Rajoy. :(((

      1. You’re welcome! Thanks for linking to that tidbit, I had NO idea about those awesome goth daughters. (For the best probably – it’s good their privacy is/was protected by law.)

        1. Actually, when that picture was posted by the White House, they had to remove it immediately, as they were minors and their image was protected by law. (There was a misunderstanding in that Zapatero didn’t know apparently that the pictures were taken to be published.) I am no one to tell you what to do with your blog, Captain, but I’d change the picture to the one where their face is blurred.

    1. Indeed. Unfortunately for all of us.

      (Hola amigx, de otra lectora española <3)

      And yeah, Zapatero's daughters are #Heroines forever.

  2. I´m so glad I don´t have to deal with anyone who´d expect me to wear jammies in their house OR outside of it. Gorgeous answer. Minor quibble: those teen goth daughters weren´t the king´s but the prime minister´s.

    1. Goth princesses would be kind of great though. I am in favor of goth princesses.

      I’m happiest when people just refrain from policing my clothing choices at all unless I have taken leave of my senses and am trying to wear a hot pink bikini to a funeral or something.

      1. My Mom policed my clothing to every funeral we went to (grandparents, aunt, etc). I always wore casual black w pants and she would have a fit and want me to change to a skirt or dress – to the point where if my answer was “I don’t own a dark skirt or dress, she would tell me to go out and buy one this instant.

        Fast foward to now, unfortunately due to illness, the likely next funeral may be hers. I am so tempted to buy a hot pink bikini and wear it to hers…..

      2. To be honest, as a Spainard I would prefer no princesses at all, and a fully democratic republic (with all of the Goth citizens if necessary). But what can you do.

        Re: the LW. I have a similar problem with tattoos. My mother always has to comment and loves to make it about herself: “Why oh WHY do you do this to ME?”, completely disregarding the fact that the tattoos are in fact on my skin, not hers. I used to tell her when I would get a new one out of fear of her reaction, wanting to just get it over with as soon as possible. Now I just never tell her, nor do I ever come near the subject, and just ignore the comments. It’s just easier, even if she doesn’t change her attitude.

          1. In case anyone ever needs a rebuttal to their mothers haranguing them about their tattoos, here is a satirical list of reasons (according to the author’s mother) you should never get a tattoo, but having a baby is fine: http://www.theuglyvolvo.com/why-you-should-never-ever-ever-get-a-tattoo-but-having-a-baby-is-fine/

            And yes, actually, I *am* working on memorizing them in case my mom ever sees the tattoo I got well over a year ago, and yes, in fact, I *am* a grown-ass middle aged woman.

          2. Ugh, that poor guy. The woman even admits that she knows this is about prejudice and that it’s silly, but she still seems to expect everyone to understand her “grief”. “What if he wants to be a lawyer?” Lady, I know at least three lawyers with tattoos, one with a full back piece. (Also, doctors, engineers, research scientists, librarians and physical therapists. People are often surprised that I *don’t* have ink, because I seem like the type; I’m a teacher, and we’ve reached the point where it wouldn’t be shocking any more.)

        1. Ahahaha, my mother wept for a solid hour when I got my nose pierced several years ago, moaning – no word of a lie – ‘What have you done? Your face! Your beautiful faaaaaace!’ Reader, I do not have a beautiful face. I look like a fat pony and a nose piercing was never going to change that.

          1. You know there’s something really freaky going on in their heads when they can’t stand the thought of you owning your own face.

            My father went the other extreme: Starting when I was a teenager, he started telling me that my face was deformed and that I needed surgery because of how bad it was, that everyone could see my ugliness and that it was REALLY BAD, and of course the whole thing was embarrassing and shameful for him, but he was such a swell guy he’d pay for the major surgery of the bones of my face that it would take to fix it.

            Now, I’m not Hollywood-beautiful and I’ve got my share of “flaws” if there are such things in a face (if there’s no medical problem, isn’t your face just your face?), but I’ve never been short of people in my life who think my face is pretty or even beautiful.

            He’d give up for a while, when he could tell he was making no progress with me, but when there were periods of time where we didn’t see each other for quite a while, when I saw him again he’d make a point of getting me on my own to tell me quietly and urgently (like he was trying to be kind about hiding my shame), how this really needed to get taken care of with major surgery, and soon because it was getting worse every year. His favorite sentence, that he used every time, was a very solemn, “It’s getting REALLY BAD, Helen.”

            He’s a great actor, and like I said, he started this when I was just a teen, so I actually tried to find ways to discretely ask people about my deformed face. It was hard because I had to try to find phrasing to get people to take the question, of me wanting to know how deformed my face was, seriously, but without saying exactly what, because I wanted to see if anyone would describe the same “deformity” he did without specific prompting. Of course, no one did. There is nothing wrong with my face.

          2. That link makes me appreciate my own mother’s hands-off approach to anything I do with my life. It also gives me the perfect example of How Not To Be as I age. I don’t want to be a whinging bitter old person!

  3. OP, the good Captain is absolutely right as always. Your future MIL probably won’t stop doing this, so brush off or ignore (or explain every time with patience I do not possess but maybe you do “I don’t like to wear pyjamas outside, remember?”)

    And, thanks for the memories, Captain! I remember – and how had I forgotten?!? – the scandal of the Spanish Prime Minister’s daughters! I hope they’re well.

  4. As another of the +100 other stratagems: Don’t stay over at the in-laws as much or at all.
    Maybe your spouse wants to stay with their parents/relations/pets who live at the old childhood home. That’s fine.
    Doesn’t mean you also have to do that!

    You could split the difference and stay fewer days with in-laws with other days spent in a hotel or with different relatives or with non–family friends or or or. You could make plans with other people you know in that neck of the woods. You could let spouse visit their family without you at all.

    Truly an endless number of ways to not spend time with people who are weird about your presence!

    1. Mmmm, depending on the family’s culture, this might not go over super well — some families really see welcoming their adult children into their home as an important aspect of being hospitable, and get very, very offended if their children and children-in-law choose to stay elsewhere when visiting (or choose not to visit at all). This may well work, or it may be a recipe for escalating the troubles in this in-law relationship from “slightly weird” to “very terrible indeed.” Only LW and her fiancé can say which.

      1. Not going to go over well? I’mma say, “So? Let it.”

        Seriously. My family is like this, too. If I ever get my wife anywhere near the town my family live in (which I won’t), we will actually be staying in a hotel in the next town north. (Their town is so small that it only has one tiny roach motel.) Because my wife absolutely cannot stand to share space for that many hours a day with anyone but me, and she HATES having people be anywhere near her before she’s showered, and she REALLY REALLY HATES smelling like minerals, and my parents have well water that reeks of sulfur. And any of those would be a perfectly good reason on its own, but all three makes it absolutely certain.

        LW is an introvert. She does not want to be around extroverts that many hours a day. That’s a perfectly good reason not to stay with the in-laws the entire time, or indeed any of the time. And the in-laws can put on their damn grown-up panties and fucking cope. LW should not absolutely have to be made that uncomfortable in order to make them happy. She gets to be happy, too.

        1. Hey, your wife sounds just like me! (Aside from the minerals thing, which I don’t care about but I understand why someone else might.)

      2. Agreed. Sometimes, staying with my husbad’s family takes me to the brink, but in their culture (they are immigrants), visiting but staying in a hotel would be a huge insult to them. And the damage done by that would be harder to undo than my anxiety about staying with them.

        So we visit less frequently and put a strict end on the visit. And I will sometimes leave the house unannounced to “run errands” and get alone time. Yes, they are sad that we visit only for birthdays and weddings and big events. But that is far less than the ocean of deeply hurt feelings we’d have to deal with if we visited them more frequently but stayed in a hotel.

        1. When I go to stay with my parents, I (politely) refuse to go walk the dogs with them probably 95% of the time — to the point that they rarely ask me unless they’re taking the dogs to the larger park across town.

          I don’t do this because I don’t like walking the dogs or walking with my parents. I do it because my mother is an extrovert, and I am an introvert, and not walking the dogs means I get introvert time without trying to explain to her, again, that I need the no-people time.

      3. Not to mention all the nasty gossip/comments that would almost certainly result! “Oh, are you having trouble with Absent Spouse? Does she think she’s too good for us?” etc. ad nauseum.

      4. Meh? If it’s so important to a host that certain people stay in their home, they can try not being rude or weird and manipulative. If it’s just sooo important to be weird and/or rude to guests, they must not value being a host that much.

        1. This is such an interesting aside thread about parents-in-law that expect you to stay with them. My in-laws live far away, and would be incredibly hurt if we didn’t stay with them during our visits. This has always been a touchy point with me — my previous way of dealing with the constant pressure was to take naps during the day (aka watching a movie on my iPad in our room). Until this past visit, when my MIL asked if I was pregnant or just on my period because I was sleeping so much. It was kindly meant, but I think we are going to have to start staying elsewhere and just deal with the hurt feelings. We already will not be able to host them the next time they visit since we converted our little-used guest room into a much-used home office and we decided we would pay for a nice Airbnb for them. They won’t like that either, but at least we have an excuse that we don’t have a room!

          1. Vast untold numbers of parents of adult children out there have dominance and/or control and/or anxiety issues that they choose not to surmount enough to be gracious and pleasant hosts to their adult child(ren) or the partner(s) of their adult child(ren).

            It is what it is.

            Any time someone can’t quite bring themselves to be a gracious and pleasant host or has to slip in rudeness or manipulation, just accept that people have their limits for their own complicated reasons and don’t go there. Stay elsewhere. And if they don’t behave well as guests, don’t have them stay in your home, as you’re saying.

    2. That seems like an extreme way to deal with a not extreme problem. The LW never said they didn’t like spending time with the MIL only that she get weird about changing clothes when they leave the house.

      Not wearing pajamas inside the house seems like a better solution then not visiting.

      Though I’m going with the belief that the LW has a good relationship with their MIL despite this weirdness.

  5. I wonder if your fMIL was actually joking when she invited you to wear pajamas around the house? And now can’t think of a polite way to say she was just joking? Maybe you’re all living in a bad seventies sitcom without knowing it…

    1. Aren’t we all? (in a bad 70s sitcom, that is …)

      I think I would leave the PJs for bedtime. Something is definitely weird about PJs in MILs house; I would switch to comfortable clothes.

      And irt the need for space I would schedule alone time as well; perhaps take an afternoon nap/walk for an hour. It might feel strange at first, but self care really matters. If you do it every day then they will soon/eventually/perhaps never get used to it. Check on the schedule first thing, decide when you are going to go out/to sleep, and when the time comes grab your coat/head for your room and say, ‘See you later; bye!’ As others have said, don’t negotiate; just do it.

      I went to stay with a very old friend last autumn; I am also very introverted, not to mention social phobic, among much else. I had forgotten the whole dynamic from my place of origin of; ‘lets all sit together in one very warm room in the evening watching whatever The Man wants to watch. For Literally Hours.’ All evening watching Formula One, while the husband of the house held onto the remote control. (His chair faced the telly; ours were sideways on to it.) The following evening my friend was out at a church meeting that I was genuinely too tired to go to (we had had a very busy day together), so I excused myself from watching telly with her h and son, went upstairs and slept until morning. I felt terribly rude doing this, but nobody else minded a bit; I doubt they missed me.

      Self care. Aka surviving.

      1. Uuugh. I also come from one of those places where everyone watched what The Man wanted to watch in the evening (damned if it was good, or age appropriate for all involved) and had forgotten how awful it is. Like, why do we have to pay attendance to The Man while he watches horrible TV (or tv that’s only interesting to him)?

        1. Thanks, it is heartening to find I am not the only one. I loved seeing my friend but I was very happy to escape the time loop and get back home again to my completely Formula One free home. Going away only reinforces my belief that I really should never leave my home.

          I always think getting out and seeing the world will encourage me to get out more. It doesn’t. 🙂

        2. The biggest burn-it-all-down, grievance-airing, entire-relationship-reset fight I ever had with my late father…started over the remote, in exactly this vein. (He wouldn’t let my stepmother watch Oprah!) It was brutal and grueling and we retreated to our corners and didn’t speak for at least six months…but afterwards, our relationship as two adults (I was nearly 30) was completely transformed. It was worth it in the long run. Funny, now, how The Man And His TV could instigate that much screaming.

        3. One of the many insulting things I did to my husband’s parents was to go into the guest room to read a book while they were watching a football game.

          And of course, I ate bacon wrong. At them.

          1. Omg. I don’t understand people who are like that (and might be a large part of why I avoid others so much). How can a person eat bacon wrong anyway?

          2. “And of course, I ate bacon wrong. At them”

            “At them”. Can I steal that? I need that in my life. Those people whose boundaries are so shot that they can take offence from you doing almost anything differently to how they do them.

      2. LW described them as: ” classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.*”

        I really don’t see that much of a difference in those and “comfortable clothes”. And for many people those would be one and the same.

        Also are you supposed to pack 3 outfits a day???? That’s a lot of luggage.

        1. Not sure where you get three outfits. Clothes appropriate to a holiday (both inside or out) for daytime; PJs for bed.

          Otoh, if the LW wants to wear 10 outfits a day, changing on the hour every hour, then why not?

          1. Not everyone’s outside clothes are the same as comfortable house clothes, and it’s not always possible to make them comfortable in some situations.

            So, outside clothes, comfortable clothes for in the house, pajamas. Three. And as for why not, again, luggage/how much you can physically bring is often limited, and that makes a lot of laundry to have to carry around as well.

          2. Sure.

            I stand by my initial post in that the actual clothes don’t matter and this is some weird shit inside the future MIL’s head. Letter Writer, wear what you want when you want.

          3. @BarlowGirl: I usually wear the same pair of pajamas every night, sometimes adding in a sweater or socks if it’s a cold night. I don’t know if this is a common thing, but that would equate to only one more outfit for the whole trip.
            That said, I mostly agree with the Captain that this might not be about pajamas as much as it is about something else.

      3. The last time I visited my in-laws, this “one warm room” with the TV was our “bedroom.” As in, everyone sat on our guest bed to watch whatever. It wasn’t dictated by any one man, but some of it was still thoroughly annoying to me, and just the fact that I couldn’t get privacy in our own bedroom because that was everyone’s congregating place, and I couldn’t even see in there because the TV was the center of everything and so the lights were always off in order to see the TV better…was fucking infuriating. I had a total breakdown doing laundry on our last evening there; this was more than four years ago, and I have no desire to return unless we can stay in a hotel.

        1. I had a family vacation a few years ago where my mother (who is sweet but occasionally Makes Assumptions) figured we would be able to get an extra one-bedroom condo unit when we arrived at our resort destination. [Narrator: We couldn’t.] And she didn’t realize that there would be only one parking pass for the entire group since we were all crammed into a single apartment.

          I came very damn close to turning around and going back home, or at least booking a hotel room for the week, but instead spent the entire week sleeping on the couch until the crack of an hour or so before dawn when my elderly grandmother came in to watch TV and throw waffles into the toaster. She also didn’t understand that the reason I was working at my laptop was that I was missing a deadline to be on this trip, spending a fair bit of her time nagging me to “spend time with your family” (meaning go watch TV with the rest of them).

          I love my family but that was the LAST time I trust them to make vacation arrangements for me.

          1. Arrgghhhh…..this gives me SO MUCH second had anxiety! I never let anyone make travel arrangements for me anymore, even my husband.

          2. Before my husband and I were married, we went to visit his parents in another state and they had a surprise visit from his aunt. So I ended up sharing a room with his aunt (luckily in 2 twin beds) who I didn’t actually meet until after we shared a room, because we got in and she was already asleep while my husband slept on a futon in the living room. And man did she snore. Never again. I get my own room (well I’ll share with my husband) or I get a hotel.

      4. ohgawd, that sounds like hell.
        If I am visiting and the socializing devolves into watching TV, unless it was a mutual decision to watch a movie I will leave, whether it be for a walk or to another room if I’m staying with them, or leaving to go home. I came to visit, not to watch TV, and if you would prefer to watch TV, you don’t need me to do that.
        If that makes me a rude guest, I think they’re a ruder host for prioritizing TV over me, but I still present it as my aversion to TV. The noise and flashing light get to me.

      5. Oh, cathy, you just managed to describe a way to spend time I would never, ever want to experience. I still suffer from memories from having to suffer watching the super boring sports events with adults when I was a child. I still usually hate watching any kind of sports – unless with an colourful expert commentary from a dear friend who seems to know everything that is going on behind the curtains. That turns sports into a Renaissance drama and for me that is the only thing which makes it enjoyable. Luckily, everyone in my family is just like me.

        Yay for self care.

  6. If it were my mom doing that, she would simply mean that she loves us enough to be seen with us in whatever we are wearing. She doesn’t care if we’re wearing pajamas.

    That said, it’s still awkward and not-okay that she perpetually interrogates you. It reminds me of the little dance some uber-polite American subcultures do where someone *simply insists* that you *must* have another helping of whatever food is around, and you’re supposed to politely refuse until you’re cajoled into it.

    Totally agree with the Captain. Cheerily excuse yourself, don’t defend it, don’t explain it, just do it.

    1. I was thinking along the same lines and giving the MIL the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, because LW is an introvert and MIL is an extrovert, it’s an attempt to say ” I recognize that you’re an introvert and want you to comfortable and will accept you no matter what”? I had an extroverted relative who did things like that in an attempt to make me (an introvert) feel more comfortable never realizing that it actually made me MORE uncomfortable. Whatever the reason behind MIL’s weirdness, the Captain’s scripts are all good ones.

  7. I could be overly suspicious, but what exactly would the MIL do if the LW wore her pajamas out? Because I do not get a good feeling out of this. It seems almost like the MIL wants to make the LW look very strange in public — is the MIL hoping to make passive-aggressive comments to others about the LW’s “insistence” on wearing pajamas (because I doubt the MIL would explain that she encouraged the LW to do this)?

    I agree with the Captain’s scripts, though. Don’t explain what you’re about to do, just go up and change and don’t answer questions about where you’re going.

    Maybe MIL is just quirky, but “quirks” are sometimes used as mild gaslighting…. LW, I really do hope it’s just a quirk!

    1. Argh, by “just a quirk” I meant “just a regular, true quirk and that everything is awesome.”

  8. I’m confused. Do the other members of this family go out in their jammies, or is it just LW who’s supposed to do that?

      1. I am DESPERATE to know this. Most optimistic theory: my personal hero, the woman on What Not To Wear who wore puggle pajama pants and dinosaur socks EVERY DAY to LITERALLY EVERY LIFE EVENT, is now old enough to have a daughter-in-law.

        1. I hated that show so much. I watched it once for the bile fascination and it made me so angry I’d practically start frothing if I saw ads for it on TV.
          It would be one thing if they were offering help to people who’d asked for it, but they seemed to target so many people who had their own style that made them happy.

          1. True story from a former boom operator: They often had to reshoot the “reveal” to frinds and family and remind/make peope cheer & clap, because often the person looked “worse” to the people who love them.

          2. My lovely sister-in-law once told me that I should apply to that show because they’d probably take me. She did so casually, like I should be expecting this kind of feedback. I am her age and wear the typical Target/Gap/Loft pants/T-shirt/cardigan gear that other women do. But with fabulous hand knit accessories.

          3. I have a friend who told me she had seriously considered nominating me for the show. I have another friend who didn’t understand how that could be hurtful. Seriously. Nearly a decade later, it still hurts.

          4. My dad, who many years later rage-flounced out of my life (and did I let him go? Oh, yes. Yes, I did), once sprang a makeover on me. I was nice to the lady, who was a sweet middle-aged Texan who called me “honey” and was very maternal and kind. But when told he was OK with me having him purchase me makeup from her store, got over $400 worth of it. Partly it was panic because what if I need this thing? What if I need that thing? Maybe this is important? because undiagnosed ADD + harsh cultural expectations = OHSHIT shopping, but looking back I’m pretty sure a tiny piece of my brain was hellbent on sticking it to him.

          5. I’m so glad to know I wasn’t the only one who despised that show. Frothing mad, YES.

          6. I don’t know a lot of those people were dressed wildly inappropriately and a lot of them were struggling at work because of it. Sometimes you just need to tell people “You can’t wear pug pajamas to the office”.

          7. To me, there’s a difference between saying, “You need to dress more professionally at work” and “the clothes you wear on your own time, that make you comfortable and happy, are so objectively awful that you have to throw them out and dress the way we tell you to”.

          8. @Kate 2: I knew someone who did not understand why she was riffed the absolutely second there was an excuse for her employer to do so, and everyone else knew exactly why, which is that even at an office job where you don’t deal with the public, maybe don’t wear your ratty old medieval clothes to work.

          9. I was blissfully unaware of this show until these comments, and now I’m wondering if the people who refused to participate were told who had nominated them and how many relationships were damaged as a result of learning a “loved” one had set them up to be followed around and filmed secretly?

            $5,000? as if that’s enough to build a whole new wardrobe in NYC especially since “game show” winners have to pay taxes on their winnings.

          10. “It would be one thing if they were offering help to people who’d asked for it”

            This is the part that absolutely freaking kills me in hindsight. Apparently the show prompted a huge number of people to go out and get CONSENSUAL makeovers from professional stylists, so there was no shortage of people who actually WANTED makeovers. They just decided that springing it on unsuspecting people with the message of “this person’s been nominated because their wardrobe sucks” would be better TV.

    1. I was wondering the same thing while reading this letter! Is the whole family lounging around in pajamas and they all troop out to Chili’s or whatever in their PJs? Do other members of the family change into street clothes? Does the mom give others the 3rd degree, or just the LW? and *what does the fiancé say* about all this? If this is a family culture thing, has he translated this for the LW: “When I was a kid we all wore pajamas constantly and I didn’t buy my first pair of jeans or realize other people didn’t go out to dinner in bunny slippers until college”??

    2. My thought too. What is MIL wearing? Big fluffy slipper, quilted bathrobe, and hair in rollers? I’d luv to know!

    3. I wonder if this is some slightly mutated, weird form of “Oh, don’t go to any trouble!” and they just want LW to be comfortable… there’s just some kind of breakdown regarding whether pajamas outside the house is comfortable (it might be physically comfortable but it can be socially uncomfortable!). That seems like the maximum benefit of the doubt reading of it.

    4. Hi! LW here. The below exchange has me laughing out loud, literally. No, no one wears pajamas outside of the house. If they did, that would definitely explain it all!

      1. Hi LW! It’s so awesome to hear from you on the thread! You’re under no obligation to satisfy my curiosity so freely ignore this question if you want. But now that you have settled the mystery of whether others wear pajamas outside the house…well, now I am *extra* wondering whether your future MIL grills other people about changing? Or is it just you? It’s weird no matter what, but weirdER if she does it only to you.

        1. I haven’t noticed any other grilling! I do think my fiancé changes from pajama pants to jeans, but he manages to do it unnoticed. I’m realizing that my mistake is telling people I’m changing/ engaging in the questioning.

          It’s probably relevant that I’m the only one she has tension with :/

          1. I’m the only one she has tension with

            You mean, you the person who is stealing her son’s love from her because a person has only limited love to give?


            My in-laws are dead and – we’re not sad

      2. Do they wear pajamas IN the house while you’re wearing pajamas in the house? Because now I’m imagining, like, an impeccably dressed Emily Gilmore cajoling guests into putting on their pajamas.

        1. There was a book I read as a kid where the brother of the main character was invited to dinner at the home of a girl he liked, and since the family was rich, the boy’s mother made him wear a collared shirt and tie, much to his annoyance. Everyone else was casually dressed to the point that the girl’s mother was in a bathrobe, and the boy’s mother was offended on his behalf. The boy defended them by saying they were really nice and offered him a t-shirt to make him more comfortable if he wanted.
          At the time of reading this I didn’t realize that the boy’s mother was supposed to seem neurotic* and insecure, because it sounded like the kind of thing my own mom might say.
          * Is this acceptable terminology? Feel free to edit if not.

          1. Sorry, completely irrelevant, but was the book in question ‘Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself’ by Judy Blume? Because I read that book a billion times and remember a scene like that in the book. (Judy Blume was my refuge growing up)

          2. @ Charliesmum: yes, that was the one! I read it a billion times too, but I couldn’t quite remember the title off the top of my head. Judy Blume readers unite!

      3. Maybe your pyjamas are less pyjama-y than hers? So that she thinks of them as ‘casual clothes’ rather than ‘nightwear’?
        Especially if you are wearing different PJs for lounging than for sleeping.
        Otherwise, I’m just as intrigued and confused as everyone else.

      4. Hey PajamasIGuess: you know, you could suddenly go all Gloria Swanson on her ass and be like, “WHY in the WORLD would I stay in PAJAMAS when their so MANY wonderful CLOTHES in the world??” And then run around in sunglasses and a fake mink turban.

        What I mean is, maybe have fun with it.

  9. Another of the 100+ scripts and stratagems: “I’m just going to grab my sweater.” It’s perfectly normal to bring a sweater with you when you leave the house (it might be cool out! It might get cool later in the evening! There might be too much air conditioning!) Maybe your pants ended up getting changed when you grabbed your sweater, but that’s hardly worth mentioning. (Another option, depending on clothing and context, is to say you’re going to put some socks on. Why? Because your shoes require socks.)

    Building on this, if asked after the fact why you changed, you could mention the weather. If it isn’t readily apparent why your pyjamas weren’t suitable for the weather, simply name the weather. “Why did you change?” “It’s X degrees outside and there’s a Y% chance of rain.”

    (This is inspired by a conversation with my mother where her reason why I needed a sweater and my reason why I didn’t need a sweater were both a restatement of that evening’s weather forecast.)

    1. +1 for “going to grab my sweater.” I have to wear Special Undergarments to leave the house for a medical reason but don’t need them when I won’t be standing around/sitting at a table, so leaving the house or an overnight host’s house pretty much always requires me to change, and I use “grab my sweater” with anyone who isn’t my husband, bestie with similar medical issues, or mom.

      I like “grab my sweater” because:
      -it primes people for me to be wearing different clothes because they are already expecting one different clothes, and so it’s not a surprise when I’m in different clothes
      -it allows anywhere from 30s-5min to change, because maybe I had to find my sweater!
      -nobody wonders whether I’m popping if it takes 5min because I haven’t announced I’m going to the bathroom
      -there’s no implication that I’m changing because I think what I’m wearing is inappropriate for outside the house, so if others are in comparable dress it’s hard for them to read judgment into it (whereas “I need to change [out of the exact same things you’re wearing]” is read as Passive Shaming by a certain group of people)

  10. My exact question, and maybe the LW could clarify – do the other residents of the house wear their pajamas on outings and does everyone wear pajamas/comfy clothes inside the house or is it just the LW?

  11. What does she wear inside the house? Does she go out in PJs/loungewear?

    I like the idea of not asking permission to change, and then saying you feel more comfortable in street clothes outside. Claim it, but also don’t argue with her. By that I mean, say you prefer not to (as opposed to cannot) go outside in PJs. And then if she says why your preference is dumb/wrong, just agree! Yep, i guess it could seem like i’m too stuck up! Yeah, I guess it does sound like I’m being picky!

    Unless she says it’s because you hate her/don’t feel comfortable enough with her to wear PJs outside – then say, Nope, that isn’t it! Or Aw, MIL, that’s just silly. And then just be a broken record – ‘it’s just my preference!’

  12. Another script that can be useful for all manner of things: a bright and cheerful “It’s just another of my many eccentricities!”

  13. In my family, we actually have our own way of lampooning this kind of quandary. At family events, a particular uncle will usually say to someone (could be me, or my mom or dad, or anyone), “You’re not wearing THAT today, are you?” We do it back to him, too. “You’re not wearing THAT belt today!” It’s understood as a gentle poking-fun at the notion that there’s a wrong way to dress for family gatherings, and we all have a chuckle. 🙂

  14. Is it possible to get fiancé in on your scripts/run interference?

    You: Give me a sec to change
    FMIL: WHY?!
    Fiancé: Haha, good one, mom. You’re so silly. So what are you thinking about ordering at foodplace?

    Or even just both of you ignore the interrogation and he try and distract her with a subject change.

    Also, if nothing else, get a trusted friend (or fiancé if he’s willing to take that role) to be able to vent about “Ugh, I bet she’s going to do that weird pajamas thing again, that’s so annoying” and they can make soothing sounds and admit it’s annoying and you don’t feel gaslit and weird. Because I’ve found sometimes when you’re at a party and the host wanders over and starts weeing in the punch bowl, being able to look at a friend and go “Wow, that’s certainly weeing the the punchbowl, no more punch for me.” and accepting that it’s ok that it makes you uncomfortable and you’re not just that Weirdo who somehow thinks weeing in the punchbowl is inappropriate is just… unbelievably reassuring and helps you get through awkward times.

    Also just as a final note, don’t tie yourself in knots trying to decode what your FMIL really means. I grew up with an extended family where you’d get offered a glass of water, and they’d be horrified and offended if you said no, but if you said yes cue the confused disapproval and “Are… you really going to just… drink that? Huh, well, I guess you are.” and I spent so much of my younger years wanting to shake them and scream “Tell me the correct answer!” So now when I visit the few relatives I spend time with I just ignore it when it’s happening and then make my annoyed sounds to my husband later. I have made my peace with the fact they’re going to make it super-awkward with offering a glass of water and it’s out of my hands.

    1. Wow… Please tell me the weeing in the punch bowl was made up and not an actual situation experienced by you? @_@

      1. Entirely made up. Wanted to come up with something ridiculous and inappropriate, but also something where you can picture all the partygoers just… looking away and pretending it’s not happening because no one wants to make a big deal out of it and ruin the party. So part of your brain is going ‘well obviously this is normal, everyone is treating it as normal’ and the rest of your brain is screaming ‘someone just went wee in the punchbowl this is not normal party behavior!’

    2. Did you ever find out what the unspoken connotations of “Are you really going to just…drink that?” were? It’s completely opaque to me, and I’m super-curious!

      1. When encouraged to drink more water because he was dehydrated my dad’s usual response was; ‘I want a drink, not a wash.’ He would drink tea, but not cold water.

        I attributed it to growing up in times when water came from stand pipes, and was not safe to drink. Hence tea; water safely boiled.

        1. The unspoken implication of that is “warm water is for drinking, cold water is for bathing,” and…

          Your poor father. May he someday purchase a hot water heater.

      2. Eventually I decided that it wasn’t about the water at all. It was about forcing me to do something ‘rude’ in accepting or denying it, so I would be stuck anxious and off balance and trying to apologize and appease them for my faux pas.

        My strategy now is to confirm with my husband that neither accepting or denying a drink of water is reasonably rude (this is a cluster of relatives and in no way the common cultural narrative) and then… pretend like I don’t notice the hostile censure present in “Are you really going to drink that?” with a cheerfully oblivious “Mmhmm, thank you for offering it to me!” And then after the visit sigh and vent to him that they did the water thing again what is their deal??? Also note that water can be substituted with any other sort of thing you might offer someone visiting, but it’s a frequent one that appears.

        1. Would it be possible/practical to say, “Yep! Why, did you want me to pour it down my blouse? Do you want some?” Like, force them to explain the point of the question. Sometimes people who are being rude will back down if they’re forced to say it more explicitly, or realize upon repeating themselves that they’re actually being ridiculous. I mean, that’s for reasonable people, of course. Mileage may vary with the unreasonable.

    3. Once when I visited grannie-in-law, I made the horrendous mistake of asking for water when asked what I wanted to drink. I say “horrendous mistake” because mid-dinner, she literally swiped away the bottle from me and disposed of it elsewhere. Absolutely baffled me.

      I would rather we not go back at her home and visit her at a public place (she also petted my lower back like I was her lover – ick!) but husband is still too enmeshed to do it.

      1. Ugh the petting your back thing! One time I was being observed doing my customer facing job by a (middle-aged, female) regional manager who didn’t normally work at the branch. While watching me in the middle of serving a customer she randomly started stroking my back! It was so. awkward. and uncomfortable. I disliked her from then on and privately referred to her in my head as ‘Strokey McBacktoucher’ from then on as a way of venting my feelings.

      2. If your husband is pressuring you to let him put you within reach of gropy-petty-creepy-assault-person, what you have is a husband problem, not an in-laws problem. He should be all about making sure she never gets within arms’ reach of you again.

  15. Wow, your MIL is acting suuuuuuper weird. I don’t even understand what her purpose is? Does she wear pajamas out to dinner herself? :S

    Part of me wonders if it’s some bizarre attempt to humiliate the LW by making her go out in public in pajamas?

    1. I admit to being similarly confused! Like… what’s the end goal here? The vast majority of people do not go out in pajamas in public. Why on earth would putting on different clothes be an issue? Good thing Captain has some great scripts as always… I’d probably just stare at her, say something snarky, and then make things awkward henceforth. <–which is why I don't write advice columns, lol

  16. Good scripts from the Captain. I’ll share my quirky/annoying MIL story in solidarity (actually loved my MIL, may she RIP). For at least 20 years we would spend Christmas with the MIL. We would arrive Christmas Eve day, help prepare for the big Christmas Eve family dinner/gift opening/talking with a million relatives until midnight and then get up early Christmas morning for a special breakfast, followed by preparation for the mid-day special Christmas meal attended by even more relatives. Except for the few hours we actually slept we were in MIL’s company and at her beck and call every moment. Usually about 3:00 pm Christmas Day we would hit the wall of family togetherness and announce we were going for a short walk, quickly visiting a friend, going to 7-1-1, whatever. And EVERY SINGLE YEAR MIL would respond “Oh, that’s O.K., I guess I can be alone on Christmas, many of my elderly friends are also alone, so I guess I can handle it.” The first 15 years we would be swept into the guilt whirlpool and not go out. Finally, we just stopped announcing we were leaving until we were headed out the door and would yell over our shoulders, “back in a bit, loved dinner, we’ll have some more of that left over ham when we get back!”. And somehow MIL lived and we didn’t die of guilt and we dreaded the whole holiday less.

    1. I think I just realized why Mr. Nor’s exit strategy is to yell “I’MGOINGOUTFORABITBYE” on his way out the door. He’s been like that the entire time I’ve known him.

    2. Oof. This reminds me of how my MIL, who I actually do love, was so excited when her parents moved into her home, so that when we visited, we could “all be together”. Booth’s grandparents are annoying and smothery, so we haven’t spend a night in the house since they moved in. Plus, they took over the living room and dining room as their bedroom and “sitting room”, so there’s nowhere to be together that isn’t in their rooms. HATE.

  17. Great answer, BUT! I really don’t like insincere self-deprecation. Wearing clothes to go out isn’t weird, and saying “I’m weird like that” (unless you say it as a joke) incorrectly and negatively labels yourself not only to others, but to yourself.
    I feel like this is an antiquated technique. Like it started in the 1970s when women were first learning how to say no, how to stop caring about social approval, and how to be themselves. I’d like to shed this technique for something more positive. For me, it’s along the lines of self-deprecation at work. It hurts you, both emotionally and pragmatically.

    1. Wearing clothes to go out isn’t weird, so saying “I’m weird like that” pretty well has to be a joke. I mean, don’t say it if it bothers you, but nobody’s likely to take it as a negative label or actual self-deprecation; it’s just a casual way to turn aside someone else’s weird demand.

    2. When you use this technique, it takes a weapon away from the manipulator. It says: ‘threatening me (with the spectre of being perceived as weird/selfish/a terrible grandchild/ungrateful wretch/eccentric/badly dressed) is not going to work’. Both parties know you are actually calling their bluff, not agreeing with them.

      1. Exactly. Nobody is actually apologizing, you’re just saying “Yep, it’s cool if you think I’m weird, I’m going to do what I’m going to do anyway” dressed up in language that nobody can pinpoint as rude.

  18. I have an MIL who also fixates on my clothing.

    “What are you wearing to [event a month in the future]?”

    “Is THAT what you’re wearing [to event we are literally leaving the house to attend]?”

    “Hmmm it would look better in a different color perhaps?”

    I realized that this was all because she thought of me as she thought of her own kids — not a grown adult, but a child incapable of choosing an outfit. “Helping” her kids choose clothing is part of how she mothers them. She expected me to consult with her about my outfits, and these things she was saying were all hint to get me to do so.

    But I do not want to do so for many, many reasons (first of which is that I don’t even consult with my OWN mother about what I wear). And the Captain’s advice is solid. Do not argue. Stay positive. Stay moving. The good ol’ “Yes,” “No,” “Wow,” “Awkward silence” script also works well.

    1. My ex-FMIL used to “jovially” snap at me to brush my hair before leaving the house when I came to stay with ex-Fiancé, who still lived with her at the beginning of our relationship. That was in the years 2-4 BC (Before Captain) so I still had no concept whatsoever of How To Boundaries back then. I tried explaining, several times, that I preferred my very curly long hair unbrushed, since brushing it turned my huge natural ringlets into a big fuzzy flyaway bush. She would say “Hmmm…” very sceptically to show that she disapproved of my finding cheap excuses to be a slattern, and I would leave while she pursed her lips and shook her head while still sort-of smiling like it was all an affectionate joke, and then the whole charade would play out again the next morning. I think she came to look on this routine as a kind of bonding ritual between us, because nagging and frustration rituals were a strong part of what family had always meant to her, I guess. I can sympathise to some extent, and I mostly think back on her fondly, but shit like this drove me insane and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it anymore since ex-Fiancé and I broke up.

      1. Omg my MIL is similarly perplexed by my curly hair! I usually straighten it out of my own preference. But sometimes when I’m traveling/staying at their place over night, I don’t have time.

        And my MIL is CONVINCED that I simply have to brush my curly, frizzy hair to make it straight and “neat.” No matter how many times I say, “actually that would make it worse, and there’s nothing that can be done when it’s this humid.” I think you hit the nail
        on the head with “nagging and frustration rituals.” It annoys me but the more i see my husband’s relatives together, the more I realize this is how they function.

        1. Ugh. I don’t see how MIL can dis your personal grooming repeatedly and have it be in good faith. Validating your calling this behavior nagging, and your not caring for it.

          1. It’s not in good faith if she does it even once.

            If your parents or parents-in-law are rude to you, they’re doing it to be rude to you / use you as a therapy punching bag for their own issues. There’s a really easy sanity check: Would they say/do whatever it is if it were their boss that was their guest? No? Then they know better than to do it to you.

            The thing is to accept that some people have their limits. If they can’t be gracious to their adult children or adult children’s spouses in their own home, accept they can’t cope and don’t go to their home. If they can’t manage it when visiting the adult child’s home, accept that they can’t cope and don’t have them over there.

            There are lots of places to meet, such as for a prescribed activity, where they have a better chance of being able to manage themselves and behave. Accept that and don’t set them up for failure by continuing a visiting style they clearly can’t manage with grace.

        2. Nothing enrages me more than straight-haired people using words like “neat” and “tidy” to describe straight hair, and words like :unkempt” or “messy” to describe curly or wavy hair.

          I have very wavy/curly hair. I don’t brush it, ever, except to comb out tangles after a shower. Even if I straighten, I don’t brush, because it just puffs up. I once had a serious argument with some tool on Reddit who claimed that you don’t have to be very attractive to catch a man, but you do need to do basic grooming, including having hair that was “silky, not frizzy”, which one can accomplish by mere brushing.

          1. Aauugghhh seriously, this! I have heard this sentiment from men before, including a guy who said “Guys like Disney-Princess hair” and just omg BARF

          2. And meanwhile there is an entire industry of curlers designed for straight-haired people to get the “perfect” wavy/curly hair… Ah, impossible female beauty standards, how we love thee. Not.

          3. One of my gigantic lightbulb moments: many men think of women as alien beings because they don’t get just how much effort is required to make us look different from them. They think women are just sort of naturally more colourful, with softer skin and bigger eyes and whatnot, the same way cis women typically have breasts and wide hips. So obviously Women Are Just Different. (A wonderful contributor to transphobia too, of course: you didn’t spontaneously develop eyeliner at puberty, therefore of course you couldn’t be a woman.)

          4. Okay, Reddit Dude. And what exactly do YOU have to do to “catch” a woman?

            I’d go on, but y’all already know what needs to be said about this dick.

          5. My bloody mother is the only person in the world who has natural, frizzless, zero-maintenance rippling Golden Waves like some sort of fairy princess. And so obviously she had a perm for her entire 30s because society.

          6. @sofar: One more reason to be glad for newer Disney princesses like Tiana, Merida, and Moana who do not have that stereotypically perfect silky hair…

          7. Yes!!! You can’t really comb curly hair unless you want a giant bushy triangle on your head. Ask me how I know. Even my beloved mother criticized my hair and asked me if I combed it until the day I made her stand in front of me and watch as I combed it and what happened to my hair. Of course curly hair won’t be shiny like straight hair, shininess comes from a smooth reflective surface. Having a bunch of hairs going in different directions, twisting left, twisting right, won’t reflect light as well as ruler straight hair.

          8. On the Disney princess hair — that confused me until I read more of the comments because I thought/think Moana has the prettiest hair of all of them, so why would Disney princess hair = brushed? Moana’s hair is fabulous no matter what she’s been doing, and she’s a girl on a mission with better things to do than mess with hairbrushes.

        3. Ugh. Unsolicited hair advice. I finally had to shut down someone who was chock full of haircuts they just knew would be so cute, by telling them that I had been dealing with this hair for 30+ years and know infinitely more about it than they did so just stop because it’s not helpful.

  19. Maybe MIL is super-anxious about being made late if she has to wait for someone else to change. “OMG, by the time LW is finished changing, then FIL will have to go to the bathroom, and Uncle Bob will lose his keys and take twenty to minutes to find them, and then we’ll lose the reservation because we’ll be late…..” I could easily see this being a source of anxiety, especially if MIL has a disorganized/large family.

    1. If she’s worried about being late, then she should make plans more than 10 minutes in advance.

      1. No idea as to whether my guess is correct or not. Even if it is, she’s still being weird in a bad way. LW has no obligation to accommodate said weirdness.

    1. I wondered about a version of this too, where she is ready to go *now*, and the family has developed an acceptance of that, and OP announcing that she will now go change is moving in a conflicting direction, and rather than be upfront (“no, you can’t change because when we announce it’s time to go, you are supposed to say okay andnfome along”), she is doubling down on how *okay* and *normal* and *wonderful* it is to wear pajamas.

      Actually, the insistence on the OP wearing pajamas around the house sounded so odd to me. Someone upthread talked about a MIL trying to show love and acceptance by ‘mothering’ them via consulting on matters of dress, and I wonder if the pajamas-in-the-house deal is something similar, where the main investment is around OP acting like family/her kids.

      All that said, Cap’n is right that OP should stop trying to parse the reasoning, and find breezy ways to do an end-run around that conversation. #1, though, is stop responding to Leaving Now announcement with a counter-announcement/apology/explanation that you need to change out of pajamas.

      1. My dad is like that, ready to go *right now*, and has fits if not everyone else is ready. Forty-five years he and my mother have been married, and she is never, ever ready when he wants her to be, because he doesn’t give her (or anyone else) any damn warning. (I’m never ready to go when he wants to go, either.)

        1. This is my parents, and unfortunately, over the years I have turned into my Dad (i.e. waiting in the car while my husband does just *1* more thing). However, we are working on this in that I now give many warnings before expecting to leave the house, and he does his level best to be actually ready at the time I told him (3x-5x) I want to leave at.

          I’m definitely wondering if that is part of MIL’s issue – she’s used to just announcing and leaving, and is thrown off by LW not magically realizing that expectation exists.

  20. I keep thinking about the way birds get together in flocks before they go on migration – more and more birds fly in, they tweet and call to each other, make short flights, swirl around for a bit, then suddenly, like magic, the flock takes off as one. Maybe FMIL and her family, with their spontaneous, no fixed time, departures are like these birds. And you poor LW are like a bird of a different species going, “Are we off then? Oh, I’ll just go and get changed.”

    None of that, of course, makes the Captain’s advice any less applicable. But it may be that MIL can no more put into words why your changing clothes bothers her, than you can pick up on the subtle clues synchronising their departures.

    1. Yeah, that’s a really beautiful description. It may not fix anything, but understanding that something like that can be happening can sometimes make it feel less frustrating. Or that if you realise “paying attention to people talking vaguely in the background because no-one will actually TELL you” is something it would help if you did, it may be possible to do, even if annoying.

    2. This is such a beautiful description! The problem isn’t actually that you’re changing clothes, the problem is that you’re announcing it so explicitly in a family culture that does these things via subtlety and intuition. It’s ask culture vs. guess culture. To you, your MIL’s announcement of leaving feels abrupt, inconsiderate, and rude. Your frustration and resentment probably shows in your voice when you say you’re going to change – you’re thinking, “Ummm obviously I’m not ready, could you not have given me a warning?” But to your MIL, she has already adequately signaled the departure somehow and/or she fully expects a certain flurry of preparations once she announces. To her, it’s annoying and disruptive that you make such a big deal about needing to change, and she feels defensive that her way of communicating isn’t good enough for you.

    3. Also, if this family culture does things by subtext and intuition, your MIL may be confused and suspicious that you’re announcing that you need to change. It’s not that she’s confused about wearing pajamas in public – she’s trying to figure out the “real” meaning behind your statement.

  21. Ooof, my MIL is similar. In her case it’s less about changing before leaving the house and more about her discomfort with my whole… look. I dress in a much more feminine, accessorized, be-lipsticked way than she does, and she loooooves to comment about how “fancy” I am or tell me how uncomfortable she thinks I must be. In her case, most of the trouble is that her (horrible) mother was also a very feminine dresser and used to give her crap all the time for preferring jeans and sweatpants and eschewing makeup. I know it’s all about her and her issues and doesn’t really reflect on me at all, but it’s still hard to listen to. I mostly pretend not to hear, or just respond “Yup!” or “Nope!” to everything she says, but these are good scripts. Solidarity.

    1. Ugh, this makes me so angry. I have a kind of low-key, relaxed, but definitely feminine style–the kind of thing that looks like nbd to the casual observer, but is actually carefully thought out and pulled-together. My style is important to me. I went through a lot of years of feeling really bad about my appearance and of not feeling “eligible” for feminine clothes. Wearing a cute top and pretty earrings and a little lip gloss is self-care for me. Anyone snarking on my jam finds themselves on the receiving end of a surprisingly vehement response. Idgaf. Don’t talk shit about peoples’ clothes. That’s it.

    2. I swing wildly between dressing the way I do when I’m in the pastures (but, like, laundered) and dressing very fancy feminine, and I don’t typically judge others’ stylistic choices (other than stuff like when my husband is all “but I don’t want to wear a suit to this work event of yours, and, well, then he can’t come because business professional is the expectation).

      But I have to admit to letting a few comments like “not nearly as uncomfortable as I’d be if I were wearing a stained t-shirt” (to someone in a stained t-shirt) or “yeah, I prefer a sensible flat to heels that make me look like a circus performer” (to someone wearing big stilettos) slip when people comment on my fancy clothing looking “uncomfortable” or my functional clothing being a “bold choice.”

      Because, really, there’s no outfit that any human being can wear that isn’t ridiculous on SOME axis. And I have a persistent enough mean streak that I’ve decided to use it deliberately on rude people, rather than randomly lashing out at kind people when I’ve been holding it in too long.

    3. I know 2 different people who weren’t allowed to cut their hair because they had a parent who wasn’t allowed to grow theirs. One was a boy, whose dad had been forced to cut his hair as a teenagers in the 70’s. Kid was growing up in the 90’s when fashions were very different. The other (my cousin) was a girl whose mother had been forced to wear her hair short in her childhood because her (the mother’s) sister had a serious childhood illness. But my aunt had fine thin straight-ish hair and my cousin had wild crazy curly thick hair. It was so hard, seeing both situations that were crystal-clear to outsiders but the parents involved couldn’t see it.

      1. I am also one of those people. My mom was forced to have short hair when she was growing up, so she literally wouldn’t allow me to have a haircut EVER. Not even a trim. I was a kid in the late 80s and my cousins thought there was something wrong with me because my hair “didn’t grow bangs” like everyone else had.

        After begging and pleading and insisting, I finally got my mom to let one of her friends who cut hair on the side to give me a trim. I think she cut maybe 2 inches off and you couldn’t even tell, but it was so exciting for me. A couple years later I got bangs for the first time.

    4. This. I HATE this so much. I collect vintage clothing and wear 1950s-styled clothes, hair, and makeup. Yes, it seems much ‘dressier’ in comparison because I am wearing, you know, an actual dress instead of sweatpants or jeans or whatever, but I don’t consider it ‘dressed up’ because it’s what I’m comfortable in. I don’t snark on what other people wear because I really do not care, wear whatever you’re comfortable in, but just because I’m not dressed the way you are doesn’t mean I’m in the wrong.

  22. This low-stakes query is literally one of the highest-stakes poison tipped sabers in my own family as well as with my in-laws. It’s like they’re starring in a cliché Dynasty telenovela sort of scenario, in their own minds. Taking a step back and considering it through the lens of some sort of social anxiety is illuminating, gives me hope.

  23. If only I had discovered you 40 years ago, my life with my in-laws would have been remarkably different. Instead of them having an intervention with my partner one day, advocating for me to be committed for a mental health evaluation….. (sigh.) Oh well, here you are now, and I’m so glad you’re here!

  24. My mom is one of those “is *that* what you’re wearing? (judgement)” people. I used to get angry, now I just say “yep”, because I’m an adult, and she can’t make me feel gross anymore.

    1. I used to be involved in a hobby that you had to dress up to participate in. When there’s a dress code component to a really broad hobby organization, it ends up with some really super weird interactions around clothing. Two examples:

      A distant acquaintance once said to me “Wow, that sure is pink” in a disapproving tone. I said “Thanks!” and kept going, and they actually followed me shouting “It wasn’t a compliment!” I whisper-shouted back over my shoulder faux-conspiratorially, “I DON’T CARE.”

      A woman looked at my outfit and said something really shitty about it, whereupon I looked over with a very surprised expression and said “You’re wearing the same thing I am.” (She was! It was in slightly different colours, but it was the same outfit! I will never understand it!)

  25. Dear LW,

    I vote for two things
    – Leave the room chanting “ready in a moment!”
    – Prime your fiancé to jump in with comments like “Mom, give her a minute to get ready” “We’ll be right there!” and the like.

    Good luck

  26. I would personally go for the route of saying “OK, great!” and then walking off and changing clothes before heading to the car. (If it really is just a change of clothes, at least; if I also felt like I wanted to brush my hair, put on some makeup, etc. then I’d probably say something like “OK, I’ll be ready in 10 minutes” and then walk off before they could argue.)

    But depending on your comfort with confrontation and your future-MIL’s general personality, maybe it would be useful to say something directly about this? Like, sit down and say, “I just wanted to let you know that I basically always need at least 15 minutes’ warning about plans outside the house, or I won’t be ready to leave on time. I don’t want to hold things up, so can I count on you to let me know about plans in advance? Thanks for understanding!” And then respond to any ‘but why?’ and the like with something like, “It’s just how I am,” which is pretty hard to argue with. I think it’s a pretty reasonable request that a lot of people would be happy to accommodate–though you know this particular individual better than us, of course!

    1. “And then respond to any ‘but why?’ and the like with something like, “It’s just how I am,” which is pretty hard to argue with.”

      That “It’s just how they are” and “it’s just how I am” are pretty effective for assholes.

      Us nice people need to use it for ourselves.

      And we deserve the same confidence behind it.

      1. It’s great because a) arguing with it is going to make the person doing the arguing look like an idiot (what, do they know you better than you know yourself? of course not!), b) it’s entirely polite (or at least neutral–nothing rude about it, you get to keep the high ground), and therefore c) it generally ends debate pretty quickly, so you can go do your thing without further ado. Added bonus: it doesn’t have quite the same slightly-negative ring as ‘I’m just weird like that’–no vaguely-insulting-yourself required!

  27. look, as a person who wears pajama pants as constantly as possible, even i don’t wear pajama pants outside of the house all the time. and when i do wear what are technically pajama pants outside of the house, i wear DIFFERENT pj pants from the ones i was just wearing. i promise you are not some big weirdo for refusing to wear pajamas out to dinner/the bar/the store/wherever. especially if your pajamas are like mine and tons of them are ratty and kind of gross and maybe have holes in them. i don’t know whether your MIL wears pjs outside herself, but like…it doesn’t sound like it, and also she should really respect that you don’t want to? you don’t sound like you’re going to take ten hours to put on Real Pants. the captain’s scripts sound like they’ll hopefully be helpful. i wish you luck in asserting that Yes, I Really Am Not Going Outside In My Bunny Slippers, Mom-In-Law.

  28. To me this reeks of passive aggressive weirdness by the MIL. I am guessing, but I think that she is completely put off by the pj wearing outside the bedroom and is making a big deal out of it in an effort to shame the LW. As in, why would you wear your pjs to breakfast, how about wearing them out also? Maybe I’m misreading, but I think the MIL really hates the wearing of the pjs around the house.

      1. I’m saying the MIL is telling the LW to wear pjs in a wierdly passive aggressive way to inform her that her doing that is wrong or rude – like MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME MI CASA ES SU CASA WEAR YOUR PJS EVERYWHERE WE DON’T MIND but is actually very annoyed that she is wearing pjs etc. If you haven’t ever encountered this sort of thing, consider yourself lucky.



        2. This would also be my takeaway. It is not, in fact, okay to wear pajamas in the house; you should always be dressed for going out into the world.

          1. And which could have come from an innocent misunderstanding! Maybe MIL meant ‘please feel comfortable enough to have breakfast in pajamas, no need to be in full makeup when you leave your room!’ but never imagined someone would wear pajamas until dinnertime — and didn’t know how to roll it back to ‘I actually didn’t mean it’s okay to not wear clothes all day, I didn’t know people do that.’ I could 100% see that happening to me. If the family don’t wear pajamas until dinnertime, she probably didn’t mean it’s okay for you to do so.

          2. CB12’s suggestion sounds extremely probable to me, maybe just because it’s what I’m used to myself. Wearing pajamas in the morning and at breakfast is very common, but I’ve never seen anyone wear them to lunch let alone further unless they were sick. If MIL is used to this too, it might not have occured to her that the LW would take an invitation to wear pajamas at home so literally, but she might be trying to adapt and be accepting once she sees the LW just treats her pajamas as clothes (in the MIL’s definition of clothes).

    1. In my family, it’s expected to wear pajamas during breakfast and possibly a little after, but everyone should be showered and dressed by 11 (thinking about holidays). It’s not spoken, but if it’s dinner time and LW is still in pajamas, I wonder when everyone else is changing out of their pajamas? It’s stupid and passive aggressive to pull stuff like that, but I also wonder whether paying attention to when other folks change out of their pajamas might provide some context clues.

      1. This! This makes the most sense to me as an explanation!

        Only LW can confirm or deny – but it could be more of a “i don’t want you to feel like you can’t step foot outside your bedroom unless you’re fully dressed” and less of a “you must wear pajamas to prove to me that you’re comfortable here and also that you’re worthy of marrying my son” sentiment.

      2. I think this is pretty common in a lot of families/social groups. Taking a slow morning and not showering or dressing until a bit later in the morning.

        Pushing the LW to not change when leaving the house might not be passive aggressive though – she could be earnestly trying NOT to shame the LW about what she may see as ‘unusual’ clothing

    2. Also agree with this. My mother has some very firm ideas and anxieties about how people should dress – she would be very happy if women’s pantyhose came back into style, though she hates them- and equally firm ideas/anxieties about hospitality and good manners. Occasionally her struggle with both resulted in her making some very weird remarks to my friends, her own son-in-law, and others about their clothing.

  29. Get yourself an adult-sized onesie pajama outfit – preferably designed to look like a woodland animal or perhaps a sea creature – complete with plastic-soled footies. Next time she says, ‘Let’s go, time to leave!’, jump right up, call shotgun, and walk out to the car.

        1. My (young adult) kid found an adult onesie pajama Grinch costume a few months ago. Just for the LOLs, I’m picturing LW wearing a bright green Grinch onesie out to drinks or supper.

          (Not that LW should do this. Just that it’d be fun to throw FMIL a MAJOR curve ball like that.)

  30. Occasionally I wonder if it’s possible to impart this wisdom to younger people or if you actually have to approach 40 before it sinks in. Reading this very blog was part of my journey to caring less about what people think, so I’m optimistic. But also I’m pretty sure some middle aged ladies mentioned it to me when I was 20 and it didn’t compute.

    But yes, this 40 year old strongly endorses the “ignore it and stop worrying” plan. Sure there are probably tricks for navigating this stuff, but they all require doing a weird dance around this strange fuckery, and why bother? Future MIL is being weird and it’s entirely possible when she says this stuff to just raise an eyebrow and change the subject, and in fact change clothes. If they want you ready to leave sooner they can give you more notice.

    1. It seems to be something that varies for everyone! I read Captain Awkward with a lot of fascination because the problems presented are usually so foreign to me… There was a thread awhile back about advice-giving being rude/intrusive/uncomfortable that was absolutely baffling to me, because in my circle, part of the point of being friends with someone is that you value their advice and want to hear it! If they give advice you disagree with, you’re expected to say so and explain your reasons so that they can discard or refine their solution as appropriate. We are geeks, Knowing Things and Sharing Knowledge and Problem Solving are how we bond.

      I never did care what people were thinking about me. I was a Weird Kid who did not care that I was Weird and merrily went on my way pretending to be a horse or wearing a purple tutu to school. A lot of my conflicts with my mother growing up were about learning to care at least a _little_ bit about what people were thinking and what was appropriate to a situation. I’m reasonably good at managing to have appropriate social interactions with acquaintances and strangers these days, but I’m still well-known for being the kind of person that you should never ask a question of if you don’t want a bluntly honest and analytical answer. I wore historical costumes to my college classes for various reasons and no reason at all, do all the nerdy things without a bit of shame, and generally do what I want so long as it’s not hurting anyone else, and offer others the same courtesy. As my mother would often say if we complained about someone doing something ‘the wrong way’, “Are they hurting you? No? Well then stop complaining.” My friends are people who consider all this a feature and not a bug. And yes, I am cis-female, as are all my close friends.

      (And because you won’t be the first person to wonder – no, I’m not autistic, they tested me when I was a kid. I just thought that there were far more interesting things in the world than worrying about what other people were thinking and couldn’t be bothered to be concerned with most of my peers, because I found them sort of boring. Adults are far more interesting conversationalists and generally more tolerant of awkward childhood foibles.)

      It just seems to be a personality thing, I’m afraid, though I’m sure upbringing can influence it – my parents are both hard-sciences people, dad’s a chemical engineer and mom was one of the first professional airline computer programmers back in the punchcard days, so they encouraged logical thinking a great deal, though it was offset by them having been raised with a degree of upper-middle-class Southern High Society norms and having to juggle the expectations of maintaining a certain degree of social respectability in that environment.

      1. Wow, are you me?

        I’ve been known to jokingly call this “not giving a shit privilege”, but I really think there’s something to it.

      2. I am autistic. When I try to fit in, it always comes back to bite me in the ass. Every. Single. Time. When I am myself, no matter how weird it is, people say I’m cute or funny. I have clapped and squealed “Yay!” when the server brings me a glass of milk in a restaurant, among other things. Nobody seems to mind my being childlike. Some of it may be because I have white and cis female privilege, so I am read as nonthreatening.

      3. Yeah, I’m ‘nerdy’ in so many ways- science nerd, videogame nerd, studied Latin with friends for fun, etc. I also have a style that combines the beauty of India, the beach, Renaissance Faire, and bellydance, have hair to my hips. I love doing things my own way.

        At work, I have to sell cards, and bring in a plushie from ‘Hatoful Boyfriend’, a game where you date pigeons, because it’s funny and the customers love it. Last week I had a guy come in to buy things who had his whole face painted two colors for watching a football game and he admitted that he felt silly being in public like that. I picked up my plushie and said, “Dude, you’re talking to a woman who brings in a plushie from a game about dating pigeons to sell memberships. What am I going to judge anyone else for?” He started laughing and felt better.

        Diversity makes the world beautiful. Why give someone a hard time over something like that?

    2. I’m now in my mid-to-late 20’s, and I have to say that reading the captains advice over the span of a few years has revolutionised my approach to not just boundaries, but brushing off stuff my mother does that used to drive me up the wall. It’s amaing how much less we fight when I can respond to something I find ridiculous (or occasionally offensive) with “Hmm. So about that obvious topic change?”

  31. I’m also an introvert with a family of in-laws who is much more outgoing than I, including an overbearing and passive-aggressive mother in law. She doesn’t ask me to wear pajamas out to dinner, but I do feel like her similar quirks come from feeling a need to be always in control, and having a family who has generally put up with her controlling behaviors. My partner really doesn’t like to start conflict, so he’ll often just do whatever she says even when it’s ridiculous, in an effort to get things to go more smoothly. Since I’ve expressed to him that his mother makes me uncomfortable, though, he’s started to stand up for me (and himself) more when she tries to exert control in a way that isn’t appropriate. He’s also an introvert and he is really clear about asking for alone time or separate time for the two of us when we’re visiting. If you can get your fiance on board to speak up for you, that might help you too!

  32. I very much appreciate you telling us all the stages of your evolution into a better pattern with your mom over clothes. It was very helpful!

  33. This advice is super good. My fiance is forever complaining that I take so long to get ready to go somewhere but like….no plans were made? You just suddenly decided we were going somewhere and I didn’t get ready for going somewhere I got ready for staying home?

    Also I adore the mad eye moody reference.

  34. Honestly, I’d start wearing clothes appropriate for these informal excursions instead of pajamas. Consider it drawing and maintaining a healthy boundary.

    I have a great relationship with my MIL, we talk on the phone every week and I love her to death, but when we stay at her house I still don’t descend from the guest bedroom until I’m fully dressed. (Though admittedly this is because I am usually emerging Later Than Would Be Preferred, so appearing 100% ready to face the day helps offset the fact that it may be approaching noon. I’m not good at mornings unless there are planned activities.)

  35. I had to give a personal vote for the particular nugget of “always be in motion” in my own dealings in the home of the other half’s anxious mother. Yeah she thinks she wants us permanently planted on a sofa nearby but if we did that she’d find something to query or get anxious about in the conversation. I talk to her while I’m bustling round the kitchen, I compliment her while passing, while fetching a drink I say ‘great tv show! Tell us what you think of it over breakfast’, (the ‘we’ve seen it and are heading upstairs for movie and early night’ news gets delivered by an unwavering other half). All she really wants is validation that we get on, and she gets it little and often while I’m happily in motion. In my case she mithers me about whether the room temperature is comfortable – and is so anxious she disbelieves me whatever my reply, so I take focus off it by not sharing space with her. In your case she wants you to both be comfortable at home and feel treated at dinner without you having even a tiny getting ready inconvenience; thats not possible so don’t announce- don’t focus her on what you ‘have ‘ to go do, just do it, and don’t let yourself catch her anxiety. She’ll catch your confidence instead. But keep moving!

    1. totally off topic but “mithers” is such a great word and I now resolve to use it more often.

  36. Excellent advice as always, Captain! This situation is 100% about her insecurities and is therefore not your problem. The more you can repeat that and believe it – the easier it will be.

    I’ve been married 18 years and my MIL has weird issues around food. Some of the ways that manifests are really annoying – she hates to cook, my husband loves to cook and has a strict diet b/c autoimmune issues – so of course she interprets his cooking at her house as some kind of passive aggressive criticism of her mothering abilities while he just wants to make food he enjoys eating with no drama. Some are funny – for years she took a can of Pam butter spray to restaurants to spray her toast or rolls!

    Mostly I just ignore or deflect or just leave the room, but one thing I can’t seem to avoid is when we all go out to dinner, she has this thing where everyone MUST tell her what they are ordering. If you try to deflect or say ‘I’m not sure’ she will ask again. And again. She is absolutely relentless and you can see her anxiety ratchet up the longer she doesn’t get an answer. When you give in and say “I’m thinking of getting [whatever],” she will answer “Oh, I was thinking about that, but it sounds so RICH” or “so filling” or something that is code for fattening. It is super annoying. (she also gets annoyed when you change your order at the last minute – leading to lots of questions about that as well….). I’ve had to train myself not to react – I just say what I’m going to order and then answer with “yeah, it does sound filling!” or “uh-huh.” It still bugs me, but it bugs less than it used to!

    Anyway, solidarity!

    1. Is cross-contamination a concern of your MIL’s? In other words, is she afraid she will suffer a flare-up if your husband cooks something that is not on her diet?

    2. Oh my gosh that sounds infuriating! I admit in that situation I would absolutely allow MIL to feel whatever anxiety she needs to feel about what others may be ordering, every time you give in and tell her what you’re going to order due to her increasing anxiety it reinforces that behaviour (as when you tell her, it eases her anxiety and that’s a powerful reinforcement of her asking next time to relieve her anxiety!).

      I’m in favour of the short term awkwardness of letting people who are being unreasonable learn to tolerate and manage their own anxiety instead of handing them the solution they’re looking for from me. Lots of ‘mm, we’ll see!’ instead of bowing to her. And the food shaming, nope outta town. You do you but it’d be interesting to see how you can alter this exchange by not giving her what she’s asking for. As a side note, displaying mounting anxiety to others can be a manipulation strategy as anxiety can rub off on others and make them likely to do whatever it takes to ease it for themselves and the manipulator. Don’t reward that behaviour!

  37. When you hear “why?”
    Blithely do the move toward your room to change and say “why not?”
    You might get a response that’s close to your MIL’s issue, but either way it’s hard to respond to that sort of volley.

    1. That’s a nice one! There are two tones; ones is the rhetorical one; the other is genuinely curious. I bet either would work.

      So is, “because I want to.” That’s hard to argue with as well.

  38. I was on the other side of this. My mother dresses like a literal street person, because she was one for some years, and for her, “dressed up” means matching scrubs. I have FINALLY, to everyone’s relief, learned to Let. It. Go. My mother’s body is her body and her clothes are her clothes, and if she wants to wear scrubs or whatever to the restaurant, that’s her choice.
    Boundaries are our friends, from either side!

  39. As someone who DOES enjoy wearing pajamas outside the house, I’m Team You when it comes to making that decision. Nobody I know well have ever given me a weird look about it – the ‘worst’ is an amused eyeroll, as my pajamas is a very Me thing – but if they did, I’d go right on ahead and not give a fuck about that. I started wearing pajamas in school as my own little way to rebel against my bullies there (“think i’m weird, well i’ll fucking give you something to talk about”), so a weird look or comment isn’t gonna deter me now. You do you, LW.

    You do you.

  40. Given that the instruction to wear PJs around the house came from the *same person* who acts weird when you want to change out of them, I really suspect she’s pulling some strange PA move.

    Maybe she didn’t really mean it when she said to wear your PJs around the house. She might have just said it to be polite, or she might have meant “don’t feel you have to be fully dressed before you come downstairs for breakfast” but still expected you to change into street clothes eventually, and now she feels awkward correcting the misunderstanding and somehow thinks this approach is less awkward. (You said the rest of the family don’t go out in their PJs, so I’m guessing they’re already wearing street clothes at home.)

    Maybe she’s intentionally (or kinda subconsciously) setting you up for awkwardness. Is magically knowing the correct time to change into street clothes a test that you’re failing? Do you dress “fancy” compared to the rest of the family and she wants everyone to know that your clothes are too fancy to wear in the house, and/or be held up while you change because you’re soooooooooo fancy? Is it a Cool Girl thing where she wants to position herself as the chill, spontaneous one and you as the uptight one who can’t just go with the flow? Does she just want you to feel a bit awkward and unsure all the time so you don’t forget your place? Who knows. Who cares.

    If you think it’s the former, it would be not only easier but maybe also more considerate to change into your street clothes around the same time that everyone else does (or at the same time as your partner, I guess). If you think it’s the latter – or if you aren’t sure but you have no interest in guessing games and think a grown woman can just tell you if she misled you about the PJs – just wear what you want, change when you want, and use CA’s scripts to avoid her weird interrogations.

    Another thing I like to do when someone asks a stupid question for mysterious annoying reasons is treat it as a very reasonable question and give a matter-of-fact answer – like you would to a small child. “These are pyjamas, so I only like to wear them when I’m sleeping or relaxing at home. If I’m going out in public I like to change into street clothes, like what you’re wearing.” If you get a “but why” to that, the only real answer is a slightly confused “…just because that’s the norm in our culture.”

  41. Just need to say Captain, I have the EXACT same issue re: leaving the house at the in-laws’ place.

    In my family, “Well, we’d better be going” means we say goodbye and then go.

    In partner’s family, “Well, we’d better be going” means they chat for another 5 minutes, slowly get up and walk to the hallway as they keep chatting, chat for another 5 minutes as we put on our shoes and coats, say goodbye, stand by the front door chatting for 5 minutes, say goodbye again, walk to the car, chat by the car for 5 minutes, say goodbye again, finally leave”

    I remain perplexed by this elaborate farewell ritual but I’ve learned to roll with it (after many occasions of awkwardly standing by the front door wondering “we’ve said goodbye why isn’t anyone leaving?!”).

    1. Yep. Can’t speak for anywhere else, but that is definitely a Texas Thing. It’s terribly aggravating – and I should know. I grew up in Texas and have to suffer the ritual every time I am home for holidays. Just gotta plan ahead and start your “Byes!” about 45 minutes before your necessary ETD.

      1. I don’t think it’s exclusive to Texas, because I grew up in South Carolina, and it’s A Thing there. It may be one of those ways in which Texas is part of the South. (Texas is and it isn’t, because Texas. 😀 )

        I also have a very gregarious extended family, and I’ve gotten more and more introverted as I’ve aged, so maybe I notice it more than I did when I was a kid and forty-some family members (ranging in age from babies to Baby Boomers) in a single dining room-living room-kitchen area was less overwhelming than it is to Middle-Aged!Me.

    2. My problem with this style is the part where I’ve got my coat on and I’m still inside the house. Sweating. Because I’m wearing my warm outdoor coat. I hate that shit.

  42. Honestly, LW, given that you’ve clarified that MIL also doesn’t wear pajamas out and neither does anyone else in your in-laws’ family, it sounds to me like a passive-aggressive insult about how either you’re so weird/quirky/don’t care about social norms that of course you’re comfortable wearing pajamas outside and/or about how you take too long or should already have changed? Or she could mean these things but in a far more affectionate kind of way, like she thinks that you are only performing wearing non-pajamas for her benefit, or something along those lines. In any case, just cheerfully sliding away from this sort of passive-aggressiveness and/or ignoring it sounds like an approach with a lot of potential for working if you don’t want to actually confront her over this. (Which is totally fine!)

  43. As a fellow introvert with an extraverted mother-in-law who is offended (well….very vocally disappointed, at least) if we don’t spend all our time with her, you have my sympathies.

  44. My mom used to pull that “are you wearing that” crap with me all the time. Sometimes she’d leave the passive part of passive-aggressive behind and say “I don’t like what you’re wearing.” (We have very different aesthetic tastes and I have what I think is a fairly good sense of style.) I finally started saying, “OK, give me $200 dollars and I will go to the store and buy a new outfit.” She had nothing to say to that, and eventually stopped.

    1. I’m not sure that is the best response. If it were my relatives, they’d run out and buy me $500 worth of clothes to their liking. They’d conclude that the only reason I dress the way I do is that it’s all I can afford and would use money as one more inroad to disapproval, manipulation, and control.

    2. Not that I’m suggesting you do this, but my sister and I started doing it back to our mother. My sister is much more gothy than I am, and I’m a lot more preppy/feminine than she is, and yet we were both somehow always Wrong. Meanwhile, our mother wore the ugliest, plainest, least flattering clothes she could find, which we started pointing out. lol

  45. Honestly LW it’s probably best to try the CONSTANT VIGILANCE. Thing and get changed right after you wake up….she might complain but at least you will be able to avoid the pajamas conversation. Act like you would if you were someone else’s guest. Clothes changed early, make-up(or whatever you do) on…..etc.
    If its too much keep your shoes in your room. “Out? Sure let me get my SHOES” and secretly change.

    1. I think LW should take control by appearing to do whatever she wants . So, one day, have breakfast and potter for a bit in PJs then get dressed. Next day stay in PJs until leaving the house. And the day after that get dressed right away (Ok have a coffee first).

  46. I’m thinking about how someone from an entirely different culture might look at hospital scrubs, a yukata-type shirt, a bathrobe, an exercise warm-up suit, pants with an elastic waistline, any long loose t-shirt, long johns, and many other sorts of loose pocketless clothing and have trouble figuring out the difference between what’s underwear, what’s pajamas, and what’s okay to wear outside. If myself were asked to explain it without photos– or even with photos– I’d have trouble.

    1. It’s based far more on presumed intimacy than on, for example, how much skin is showing. Which is, as you say, different from culture to culture. A set of full-length, long-sleeve lounging pyjamas are more intimate and therefore less acceptable in public than a bikini, because they’re for sleeping in, and sleep is intimate and private and safe.

    2. I always figure it as ‘the clothes which you sleep in are pajamas, even if there are some clothes that you occasionally wear to sleep but the rest of the time are not pajamas’. That and a pajama outfit is one without a bra or underwear, so it’s more intimate and immediately noticeable too.

        1. True. That only proves my point. There’s no single feature (like pockets) that makes the distinction between pajamas and not-pajamas. I realized after I posted that I said pajamas were loose clothing, but I also said (sort of) that many people sleep in long johns (I do sometimes)– which aren’t loose. Then there are the consumer protection laws in the U.S. that say that anything marketed as pajamas have to be fire-safe or flame resistant (or something- I haven’t checked on the details) where loungewear doesn’t have to be. I think we’re all at a loss to say definitively what pajamas are, and that’s something LW can use to her advantage. Even the point about not wearing bra and underwear with pajamas. There are people who are more comfortable sleeping in those.

          1. My roommates and I have had a number of lively debates regarding appropriate sleepwear. I like, for example, to sleep in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt or tank top, and put the pajama top on, unbuttoned, over that if I want to be comfy around the house. Half my roommates thought this was unbearably weird, the other half thought it was incredibly sensible and adopted it for themselves.
            The debate still rages over nudity in sleeping bags, but I’m pretty sure I won the argument about socks in bed. If you’re luck enough to not get cold feet, go you, but I can’t sleep if any part of me is cold.

          2. I am genuinely and deeply bewildered by the idea that anyone sleeps while wearing a bra voluntarily. Honestly, I think it’s just a TV convention–nobody I have ever known, heard of, or read about actually does that.

            And yeah, pajamas is often a transitory state for clothing–there are plenty of t-shirts I only wear as pajamas, and when I’m wearing them with pajama pants or shorts then they are also pajamas, but when I’m wearing them just as t-shirts they aren’t any more. Same with some pajama pants that can be converted to lounging-around pants.

          3. I know at least one woman who sleeps with a sports bra on. She is large-breasted, and I think she prefers not flopping around? (I am large-breasted and want freedom, I am just wondering if the subset of women who sleep in bras is more likely to come from the large-breasted among us.)

          4. I mean, I am very large-breasted and a bra sounds horrific. But I can see why a sports bra might be totally fine! I was picturing more the amount of women they show on TV wearing underwires to sleep without having passed out.

    3. Haha, that reminds me of when I was an exchange student. I was surprised to see so many people around town wearing pyjamas. Only after seeing an old lady in “pyjamas” in mid winter it dawned on me that actually, that was a winter jacket. I still don’t get how I could mistake a winter jacket and a pyjamas jacket, my best guess is exhaustion from studying in a foreign language combined with utter lack of fashion sense.

  47. Argh

    My grandmother does this. And I love my grandmother dearly, but every visit with her is a nonstop stream of interrogation and “why don’t yous?” and that means I never visit for more than a few days at a time because it is impossible to get comfortable at her house.

    Seriously, she will follow me into the bedroom and stand over me while I get dressed while quizzing me about my underwear and do I wear bras and why am I wearing that and will I wear this from her instead? no? how about this ill-fitting and color I never wear shirt possibly covered in sequins? why won’t I wear it instead of my clothes? here let me just get this velour tracksuit or these shoes that aren’t your size, wear them instead!

    It. Is. Exhausting.

    I don’t know why she does this. I’m in my mid-thirties and have successfully been dressing myself since kindergarten. I don’t know if it’s control or genuinely not trusting me to put clothes on my body, or what, but it’s annoying AF and by day three my teeth are permanently gritted. I just power through, wear some stuff that I hate/doesn’t fit, take a bunch of her clothes back with me that she insists I take, and then donate them to Goodwill. At my last visit I had to just start flat-out refusing clothes. She has given me some awesome vintage clothing that I love, but the majority of it is stuff I will never, ever wear.

    1. Jaw hanging open here, because…watching you get dressed?! No. Just NO. That is not something any adult gets to do to any other adult without consent, any more than watching them go to the bathroom! And quizzing you about your underwear?! Jesus Christ!

      1. Yup. I mean, she’s in her 90s and I only visit her for about 3-4 days at a time, so it’s not a hill I want to die on, but I do find it really weird. She is a major hoverer. MAJOR.

  48. This sounds like a book by Deborah Tannen, “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation”. I love her stuff, and recommend this book in particular for this thread!

    1. Oh yes! I skimmed the first bits on amazon, and that is super pointful.

      One bit that stood out to me, was that mothers (or parents) USUALLY do this. But also, daughters (or offspring) often take comments as judgement even if they could be taken another way, because of an existing pattern of expecting parents to make decisions for children.

      And I realised I do that ALL THE TIME because I always expect other people to know better (about most things, because I don’t feel properly grown up) and then I can — very unfortunately — feel defensive whenever someone suggests something, because it always sounds like they’re telling me to do it that way even if they’re not.

  49. Ugh, that’s annoying.

    This kind of thing can easily happen with no-one specifically at fault. E.g. what A does is perfectly normal to A, but weirdly abstemious to B, and B keeps checking “are you sure you’re ok? can I not do [normal host thing]?” and A feels B is criticising their choices. But I can’t see what you’re doing that’s so surprising.

    My guess is something like, she has a fairly normal desire that she expresses in a way that’s literally impossible to fulfil. E.g. she wants you to be comfy so she says, “it’s ok to wear pyjamas”. But in fact, everyone else changes out of pyjamas before 11:30 am, and even though she SAYS it’s ok, she in fact hasn’t adjusted to anyone not being able to leave the house in 30 seconds notice.

    Or as someone suggested, she gets impatient with people taking too long to leave a house, so she just chivvies anyone who takes longer than “instantly”, even if some people naturally do need like 5 minutes to get changed, because she’s used to five minutes translating into “and then someone else goes off for five minutes ad infinitum”.

    And some people respond if you point that out and ask what they really want and try to do that, but most people just find it really hard to adjust their habits. The pressure to “get everyone ready quickly” is not any less if that’s impossible, alas.

    I don’t have any good suggestions. The captain’s scripts are definitely good. I think the best options are either (a) copy everyone else, if everyone else is out of pyjamas, change into day clothes, even if everyone is saying “you don’t need to” or (b) ignore it, say “ok, I’m coming” but then actually get changed. Also (c), asking, “are you thinking of going out later” might help or it might not.

    Actually, that’s a very good question. Is everyone else instantly ready when someone says “go out”? Or do they actually take five minutes to get ready but don’t get blamed for it? Or do they get blamed for it, but don’t take it personally because she’s always like that? You shouldn’t have to put up with it, but copying what everyone else does is probably the path of least resistance, if you don’t feel like talking to her directly is likely to work.

  50. I echo the suggestion to model everyone else in the house in terms of what they’re wearing. It may be annoying to have to observe everyone so keenly, but you may find it’s way better than this odd tapdance whenever you’re leaving. YMMV. When everyone else takes a shower, go ahead and take one and get ready for the day.

    Also, as someone who is a bit of a dawdler (studies say we live longer!) consider if your “I just have to go get changed” routine is really the 5-10 minutes you’re thinking it is or if folks are oftentimes left waiting on you. I’ve often thought I was only quickly grabbing a few things but my tendency to get distracted and/or my attention to detail when doing makeup etc often means it’s a bit longer than I’d intended and everyone is waiting on me. If that’s the case, get ready for the day early-ish and change into your pajamas later when you’re in for the evening.

    If all else fails, there’s always ATHLEISURE. I kind of hate it but so many folks live in black leggings, full-zip or pullover, solid color baseball cap, etc. and can go from lounging to happy hour a little more seamlessly than old flannel pajama pants. It might solve the problem. Not that you have to change your whole entire style but just throwing out there that there’s a world of things that fall between ratty pj’s and evening gown on the spectrum.

  51. “Because I want to” is perfectly good answer to questions like, “But wwwhhhyyyy do you have to change?”

    People can be weirdly judge-y when it comes to clothes. It’s similar to the weirdness you often find around diet stuff–when you say you’re vegan/paleo/gluten-free/whatever, people can sometimes take your life choice as judgment against their own choices. My guess is something similar is happening with your MIL.

    If that’s the case, owning as your personal quirk might work well. “I just don’t like wearing pajamas out of the house” + shrug.

  52. My mom did this my entire life at home and still tries to pull it in occasion. She could give a crap if she looks messy, and she hates waiting. I told her many many times that I needed to change while she said “you look fine let’s just go!!!” What helped was telling her when she wasn’t trying to rush me (not in the moment) that I *always* require 10 minutes notice before I will leave the house and the last minute when I am there is ten minutes earlier than when she thinks we can walk out the door. She would roll eyes while I put in mascara every few times but I made a firm rule out loud that made it seem very petty to push back on (I need 10 minutes every time) and it’s mostly worked. It helped make it not about her fashion sense or my undying love for eyeliner and pants I did not sleep in. It’s just “my quirk” I don’t let her get around.

  53. The sort of good thing about this, I suppose, is that you know FMIL does this every time. And you know that no matter what the plan is or what she wants to do, you’ll get blowback for wanting to put on a pair of jeans first. Here are some additional ideas that I came up with if I was in your shoes (which I have been and muddled through but not terribly gracefully, so I have the benefit of some hindsight)

    Idea 1: I’d cut this off at the pass by asking what the day’s plans are early in the morning. That way if FMIL says, “oh, I thought we’d go to Stinky’s Pub for drinks then Jimmy’s House of Sauerkraut for the early bird seating” you know there’s a plan and can be dressed by the right time.

    Idea 2: take up some sort of out-of-the-house exercise in the afternoon so you’re sweaty and need to shower/change before going out (also, a lovely jog/walk/whatever gets you out of the house to recharge before going out for an Obligation).

    Idea 3: Make a game of how fast you can change your clothes. Run toward the bedroom/bathroom and shout out, “I can do it in under four minutes! Time me!” Then actually take as long as you need and declare you’re never going to beat your best time.

    Idea 4: Instead of telling her you need to change your clothes, tell her you have to poop. Is she really going to tell you to wait? Nope nope nope. Now you’ve just bought yourself easily 10 minutes of uninterrupted bathroom time that you can use however you see fit. You can do 10 minutes of yoga or play Candy Crush or whatever.

    Idea 5: As others have mentioned, call her bluff and actually go out in the pajamas. I don’t love this, but it might shut down the ridiculousness so you can just put on some jeans and a sweater and enjoy your time at Jimmy’s House of Sauerkraut without feeling rushed.

  54. I absolutely support the “This is about MIL and not you” train of thought. Anecdote time: I once went to visit an ex’s grandparents. I am an introvert and they are the type of extrovert who think a host has to offer constant entertainment and activities. I didn’t know this before we went there but I was already used to explaining to extroverts that I sometimes need a break. After a whole day of being bombarded with activities, when we were ready to leave for coffee, I said “you know what? I am about to drop dead, so go ahead and go for coffee and I’ll rejoin you afterwards”. That didn’t go over well. The grandma started to scream that I was emotionally unstable and that something was wrong with me (for needing a break). The irony of this situation is so beautiful, I love telling about it. She did this until her husband and my ex were so stressed out and shocked that they convinced me of going for that coffee with them. I agreed but aborted the visit a day earlier and never went back. They were kinda mad but who cares? I was not amused either. This kinda stuff is absolutely about the person projecting the “something is wrong here” on you, making it seem a “something is wrong with YOU”. The people around people like this are often used to it and cope in ways that make it seem like you are indeed the problem. You are not. It’s not your responsibility to politely assume the role of the broken thing. Do you in whichever way feels necessary or possible.

    1. Ugh I’m so sorry, that sounds like the worst (even if it does make a good story!). Something really similar–but fortunately not as dramatic!–happened to me. It was maybe day three of a week of holidays a couple years ago, and FMIL had planned so many fun things for us. I’d strategized with my SO, and we’d decided that I would just tell FMIL I was an introvert, and explain that I needed alone time.
      This did not go over well:

      Her, at dinner: Let’s all watch a movie after this!
      Me: Thank you so much, but I’m pretty tired. I’m an introvert, and so I need some alone time.
      Her, to the table at large: I just don’t understand why so many people are calling themselves introverts these days!

      Luckily no one started screaming :/ But I have carefully not used the word ‘introvert’ in her presence since then, and tried to make up excuses for my alone time (going so far as telling my boss, once, that I would be very happy to have a little work to do over these latest holidays).

      1. Oh man, ok, I’m sensing FMIL is not getting that “introvert” is supposed to be quick code for “sometime I like to be left alone and it’s not a reflection on your company”

      2. That’s…..pretty rude. I think you can dispense with normal mutual planning ettiquette (reasons are for reasonable people) and just mmmhmmm her, or subject change into movies as a topic. Then when you get home; surprise you’re too tired! If her outings are snuck up on you, then your me time needs an equal lack of announcing.

      3. With the additional information here, this is sounding like you’re somewhere between “there’s something wrong with the LW because she’s not like us” and heads-I-win-tails-you-lose dominance games. If so, the only winning move is not to play: either brush off their comments with one of the scripts here (e.g. if asked why you’re going to change, say “why not” or “because I want to”) or walk away.

        This may be the point at which your fiance gets to start telling his parents things like “LW isn’t here this time because she needs a few days to herself” and “thanks, but we have other plans for Thanksgiving” (where the “other plans” are “not being harassed for ordinary things like wanting a little time alone, or wearing street clothes when you go out somewhere”). If he goes to see his parents and explains that you need time to yourself, that might separate “needs time alone” from “is avoiding us.” But even if it doesn’t, you get your time to yourself, he still gets to see his parents, and if they’re unhappy about your absence, it’s the natural consequence of how they treated you.

      4. I know it’s hard to just bow out of something everyone assumes will be shared but it’s possible.

        My example of this is sharing the food you order.

        I started with a friend group: No, don’t count my pad thai in with the shared appetizers. Order another for the group.

        I shortly thereafter added my family: Morley’s Mother (to the table): We order “family style” and share of course!
        Me: Not me. The shrimp is mine.
        Morley Bro: Yeah, I’d rather have my own dish.
        Morley SIL (sotto voce): Thank God. I’ve wanted my own food for years.

        (In fact, I often share an appetizer and main course with someone. But I have idiosyncrasies, like wanting my vindaloo hot, or not wanting pork at all, or being really hungry. I didn’t want my fried rice to be divvied up among four people. It was my supper.)

          1. That’s true, but would have left me open to food grabber once flu season ended. My point was that extricating yourself because you want to also works.

        1. I will share anything with my husband, my sister, and my sister’s kids. Otherwise, I want my own darn food. I find other people disgusting, TBH, and I just can’t stomach eating something that someone else has sampled unless they are on that list.

        2. Yes, often people think it is impossible because they were raised to bow down to the angry controlling person (ACP). Or because the ACP will make a scene. But you just have to ignore the scene and do things your own way unless you want to spend every visit and holiday for the next 30 years doing what they want. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. Especially because most ACP’s back down after a few tries when they realize you won’t break.

        3. OMG, I wish I had that confidence back when I was younger. Once, I was out with my husband and his parents for dinner, back when we were just dating, and we went a japanese restaurant that also did hibachi, and they bullied me into getting the hibachi combo, which was a smaller portion of the thing i wanted, plus a whole lot of stuff I wouldn’t eat. Because they were all doing the combos, and it was a better deal.
          (This wasn’t even sharing things, just being bullied into doing what everyone else was.)

        4. My father in law frequently tries to give my food, that I am still in the middle of eating, to my husband because “he looks so hungry! Poor husband, doesn’t he look so hungry???” The meal usually culminates with my husband yelling at his dad to leave me and my food alone, and me snapping that “husband is a grown man, if he’s hungry, he can order more food.”

          1. This, like so many interactions I read about here, leaves me wondering what the payoff is for your father-in-law. This has happened more than once. He likes having the obvious snapped at him? Maybe. He likes getting yelled at? I guess so. Maybe he thinks the yelling and the snapping are part of the fun, a sort of party where it’s fun to get emotional, or maybe needling people into getting emotional is it The person who yells first loses. Maybe it’s worth it to him because he gets a free dig that he thinks you eat too much? All baffling speculation.

          2. Clarry – I honestly don’t think he can help himself. He’s like a dog with a bone with some stuff, and just can. not. let. it. go. He was like this to a much lesser degree up until he retired, and now I think his personality has just amplified with all of his free time. He absolutely likes getting a reaction, and thinks we’re all just having fun (which is crazy). He also has old fashioned (that is the kind term for it) ideas about how wives should take care of their husbands, and part of that, apparently, is making sure they are stuffed to the gills at every meal.

          3. Maybe that’s a passive-aggressive way of telling Madame to focus of pleasing/serving husband and/or FIL thinks she’s fat. Still an asshole move in any case!

          4. Ah. With the additional detail, it’s now clear. He’s a Mean Old Man Bully.

            There are a lot of them. A LOT of them. Their preferred targets are younger-looking women, and they love loud, mean-spirited bullying stunts, which they invariably claim are intended as friendliness and fun for everyone around, even though they are obviously lying.

            Madam S., you need to be careful, because the more a Mean Old Man Bully gets away with around certain people, the more he may escalate, and since these are fundamentally hate-filled men simmering with rage that young women dare to walk around in the world, they will escalate to violence if they think they can get away with it. He absolutely is on the lookout for ways to physically hurt you that he thinks his wife and son will excuse as him somehow not meaning harm.

      5. My MIL is weird about introversion, too. She seems to pretend to understand what it means, but doesn’t quite get it. Like, she’ll say stuff like “I know introverts don’t like to be talked to in the morning”–when no, I don’t think that’s a universal “introvert thing;” I don’t like to have complicated conversations pre-caffiene, but that’s more a “night owl” than an “introvert” trait. But then after saying that, she’ll continue talking. It’s like she thinks that acknowledging My Problematic Personality (and making incorrect assumptions) is the same thing as compromise and understanding and respect.

          1. Whereas I’m a bouncy morning person introvert, no caffeine required 🙂 Just don’t try to talk to me after I’ve started wilting for the night.

        1. My FMIL (an extrovert) seems to believe “introvert” is synonymous with “very private person,” which……not really? At our last visit to my future in-laws, my fiance and his father went out for the afternoon. I was left in the house with FMIL. I decided to use the time to relax and do a bit of reading in the living room. She would ask me something every 10-15 minutes, clearly trying to engage me in conversation and not taking the hint when I kept giving one or two word answers and very obviously reading. Eventually she came and sat down near me and asked, since I am a very private person, is it okay for me to be interrupted? And she did not mean in that moment because she had something to say. She was asking about interrupting me IN GENERAL. Forever. She was literally asking for a blank check to interrupt my quiet time. I had no idea what to say as there was really no good answer. If I said no, it would have hurt her feelings in a way that didn’t feel worth it. So I wound up saying yes, giving her eternal permission to interrupt me

          1. Whenever you feel up to it, you can definitely invoke the fact that just because you said it was okay once doesn’t mean it’s okay forever. Possible scripts:

            “I’m really loving this book and I just want to read quietly for a while.”
            “I’m having a great visit, but I’m not used to quite so much activity, so I need a bit of time to recharge.”
            “Huh? Oh, when I’m reading I sometimes go off into book-land and become unaware of people talking to me. I’ll let you know when I come up for air.”

          2. Oh my. I am an introvert AND a very private person AND someone who doesn’t much like interruptions. But everything about that scenario just makes my shoulders go up.

          3. I’m not trying to make excuses for your FMIL. I am trying to find a solution to the problem. Is it possible that in her way of thinking anyone in the living room is fair game such that the combination of don’t-bother-a-reading-person and is-in-the-livingroom is a does not compute situation for her? I’d try getting quiet time in a bedroom. Or say you’re going to read for a few minutes before napping in the bedroom (and then make the “few minutes” as long as you need). If there’s no bedroom you can escape to, try to figure out what signals a do-not-disturb space to her. At my most dastardly, I’ve said I was going for a walk by myself, then read in a car.

    2. I can think of so many instances where extroverts think there’s something wrong with introverts even when the introverts state their need for alone time/recharge time in plain non-accusatory terms. I can’t think of instances when introverts think there’s something wrong with extroverts for needing to be around other people doing something.

      Once when I still lived with my parents, I stated that I was going to retreat into my room because I needed some quiet time. (This was long before any of us had heard of Myers-Briggs.) My father left me alone for 3 minutes, then came in to talk to me. (Bore me with old stories I didn’t want to hear.) It was obvious he thought quiet time was a great idea and l figured he’d join me for it. Another time at a noisy people-filled family wedding, I ducked into a stairwell to be alone for a bit. My father saw me and followed me. (It’s like he had his eye on me, or how could he have noticed.) I explained that I’d gotten away because I needed some quiet. He nodded because he understood and sat next to me on the stairs. That time I said I actually needed the bathroom and fled to stairs higher up. Many years later we were in a hotel lobby when I actually did need the bathroom and stated that I’d go up to my room for it. My father said he’d come up with me. I had to explain that I wasn’t using the bathroom while he hung out outside the door.

      And the wild thing is that I’m convinced that in all these examples, he merely wanted to be with me, felt genuinely hurt at the rejection, and still can’t understand why I avoided him.

      Last example: I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t want to cut off all contact with my parents altogether, but I had put rules in place. We got along better when we were on no one’s home turf. I wasn’t going to visit them in their home city (where I grew up), and I wasn’t inviting them to mine, but vacationing in a foreign city was okay. Another rule was that I absolutely wasn’t sharing living space. They had their hotel room, and I had mine. I’d driven 10 hours to vacation-spot city. They’d gotten on a plane. My mother found that something had gone wrong with their hotel reservation. She told me about this, and I had nothing to say on the subject. I hadn’t made the reservation. I didn’t know if the problem was with the hotel or with the arrangements she’d made, but it had nothing to do with me. My mother suggested that they’d just move in with us. I know she was testing me. I said that we could turn around and drive back.

      Turning point in our relationship. Somehow she found a hotel room after that.

      1. ” I can’t think of instances when introverts think there’s something wrong with extroverts for needing to be around other people doing something.”

        I have… Not as often, but they can get some pseudopsychology about not liking their own company, being part of a generation that needs constant entertainment, needing to learn to ‘be at peace’ etc etc

        1. Uggggh, my ex used to do that. I know he didn’t mean to be rude but he’d ask me things like, “Where is your ideal place to be alone?” and my answer was something like, “In a busy café in a city where I don’t speak the language so there would be plenty going on but I could be left alone.” He told me something was wrong with me for not being able to handle being by myself. I can handle it, I just don’t want to, and it’s not my ideal.

          We’re still friends and I love the boy dearly, but UGH.

      2. I have absolutely seen extrovert behavior gets pathologized by introverts… being the extrovert child of an introverted person, for example, can be very difficult (“what is wrong with you? why do you need so much attention? why can’t you just leave me alone?” not the greatest things to hear from one’s parent).

    3. “It’s not your responsibility to politely assume the role of broken thing.”

      That is beautiful and very helpful. Thank you.

  55. I would be soooo tempted to call FMIL’s bluff and go out in the pajamas. Bring a second set so you can throw the ucked up ones in your laundry bag.

    That or stop wearing pjs around the house. Leggings/sweats/comfy jeans and a tank top. If FMIL gives you a hard time about not wearing pjs anymore, just tell her you want to be ready to go so you don’t have to worry about changing if it’s decided to go out.

    1. That was my thought too! I have a couple sets of leggings and oversized tops that I just kind of hang out in, very soft and comfy but not anything that would be unusual to go out in. I’d be tempted to just wear that around and say it’s so comfy. (Of course, for me, I’d be hiding that I don’t actually have pajamas…)

  56. My MIL used to drive me crazy and one of the most stories I repeated most often to my friends was the time we were visiting and headed to the grocery store to pick up something for her and on the way out the door she asked us what route we were taking to get there. I was SO annoyed that she was so controlling that she felt she had to approve our route. And that was one of many things she did like that…2+ hours on the phone discussing minutiae about appropriate gifts every time there was a holiday and then she’d turn up with something completely different. Times she’d tell us holiday dinners were going to be HOURS before they actually were, to keep us from going to my family meals taking place at other times. Why? Why??? It drove me crazy.

    And then. And then. And then she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And looking back I wonder how many of these annoyances were early symptoms that she was a genius at hiding. Can’t remember where they’re going? Ask about the route, you can figure out where from the how. Afraid I’m not going to remember what to get as a gift? Write down every minuscule detail about the options (ok, that one didn’t work because then you still have to buy the gift…). Get the time wrong on a holiday? Say “Well now we have SO much more time to chat!” No one will assume someone known for over the top hostessing forgot the time of her own party. Looking back I feel sad instead of the anger I felt at the time.

    I’m NOT saying your MIL has some terrible disease. I AM saying that somewhere down the road you may get a missing piece of the puzzle that gives you a better picture about what’s going on. If you get that piece, try to take the time to rearrange your thinking. It was a lot easier to be kind in her last years when I realized that so much of what drove me crazy were probably her coping strategies.

    1. FWIW, my husband’s grandmother does things like that, and she decidedly does not have dementia. She just wants all the time and attention to herself. It’s very sad that your MIL has Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s really just as likely that LW’s MIL has a weird and difficult personality and likes to control things.

  57. Not an ideal solution, but could you get some comfortable around-the-house clothes that aren’t pajamas? Leggings and a loose knit tunic or dress look like a put-together outfit but feel like pajamas. See also: yoga pants, sweaters, cardigans over tank tops.

    Also, anyone remember the infomercial for Pajama Jeans? They’re pants that supposedly look like jeans (real jeans, not jeggings), but they’re made out of sweatpants material. Kind of silly, but could be a solution!

  58. JenniferP, I sympathise with the ‘Is that what your wearing?’ thing. My mum used to take it to another level: ‘You can’t wear that. You can’t go out like that. Can’t you change into something nicer’ – while we are putting our shoes on to leave the house (on one occasion, ready to go out for a New Year’s Eve restaurant meal. I had put on a little black dress. I don’t know why it offended my mum – did I look like I was trying to be ‘sexy’? – but she was so unpleasant about it, and for so long, that after some resistance I went upstairs and got changed. I think she literally said, at one point, ‘Well I’m not coming if you go out wearing that.’ …)

    I still don’t know why it was such a big deal for her, why she had to be so unpleasant about it, or why it made such an impression on me, and why I felt miserable for the rest of the evening. And I don’t know what I could have said.

    Wish I had tried your ‘ignoring’ thing, though!… 🙂

    Mum: ‘you can’t wear that. I’m not going out if you wear that. Can’t you go and change?’

    Me: ‘you look nice! … OK, see you later?…’

    1. Let me tell you, I am really big on just calling people’s bluff with stuff like that. I say as someone whose mom used to throw these major tantrums (over very minor things) and storm on of the house in a Big To Do. Amazingly, once we STOPPED giving her attention by chasing after her, we started being able to count down how long it would be before she stormed back in on some pretext to try again to get the attention she wanted. After at least a year of Not Engaging (or very little), she…stopped doing that, almost completely, and the same goes for the Dramatic Pronouncements that she was [insert whatever here, say, Going To The City Since No One Cared]. I can practically guarantee that, though that instance would not have been pleasant, your mother would have run out after you to meet you at the restaurant…in your lovely dress.

    2. My mom used the “but you’re so much prettier without your glasses!” line. Yeah, I’m pretty until I run into a post, then I’m bloody and swollen.

      1. Or (this is applicable to me) “But I’m a royal pain in the ass to deal with when I have a splitting headache from eyestrain, so the glasses are staying on my face, prettiness be damned.”

      2. Or when in Less Than Zero Fucks to Give mood: “So are you.”
        If you get to insult me, I get to insult you.

    3. The answer to a threat like “I won’t come out if you wear THAT” is to call her bluff. My mother is an epic drama queen and has a personality disorder, so if the attention isn’t on her/we aren’t proving that we love her more than anyone else or the “right” way, she throws shitfits like that.

    4. One thing about the “you look nice!” response is that it models for her what the polite and appropriate thing is to say to someone just as you’re about to walk out the door.

  59. This is a great example of USE YOUR WORDS, PEOPLE. Well, except the LW’s mother-in-law is the one who needs to use her words and you can’t control others’ behavior. I tend to believe the comments that say the reason MIL has the weird pajama fixation is because she wants to leave RIGHT NAO. If she could just state what she’s actually thinking/feeling, they could reach a compromise where it’s like, “Next time, 20 minutes heads up before we leave?”

    Again, probably not terribly helpful for the LW. And the reasons for MIL’s weird behavior don’t excuse it and it’s not the LW’s job to figure out what the reasons are. But using your words and clarifying your “why”s might be helpful for people clashing over, “Well, this is just the way things have always been done” type scenarios.

  60. The tactic I take with my mom, when she starts trying to project her anxieties onto me, is to confirm them (with sarcasm!). For example – I wear a lot of athleisure stuff when I’m not at work, like leggings and sweatshirts. Whenever I’m visiting my parents, which is at least once a week because they want to see the grandbabe, I am wearing my comfy, non-work clothes. My mom, who is terrified of the judgement of others and worries that her children aren’t looking “presentable” at all times, has asked me more than once if I wear my running leggings and ratty old sweatshirt to work. She’s dead serious! So I respond, “Yep, this is all I own, I don’t wear anything else.” She usually just laughs nervously and changes the subject. It’s cut down on the amount of times she’s asked me this when I respond this way. A few times I’ve protested and said something like, “No, I have work clothes, I just don’t wear them around you cuz we’re hanging out at your house with a toddler,” but for some reason that just makes her more anxious. The only way I can really shut her down is with sarcasm. I think the sarcasm and non-answer let her know that the topic is not up for discussion, and I don’t want to hear about it again.

    This has also stopped her from making comments like, “We’re going to take a family photo at Thanksgiving, so…wear something…nice. You do own something nice, right?” To which I respond, “Yep, I’ll wear my best leggings and I just bought a new hoodie.”

    1. High five. My response to “Is that what you’re wearing?” is to say “No” and keep walking out the door. Stupid questions deserve stupid answers.

    2. I’m probably less generous than you, because I would make her come to me to see the kid, especially if she kept being such a damn nag about my clothes.

      1. It’s either get comments about my clothes or have her criticize my housekeeping and act like my house revolts her, so I usually pick the former. 🙂 But most of the time I’m dropping off the kid and going out somewhere!

    3. ” A few times I’ve protested and said something like, “No, I have work clothes, I just don’t wear them around you cuz we’re hanging out at your house with a toddler,” but for some reason that just makes her more anxious. ”

      Here’s the thing about anxiety–if you respond to it with reason or take it seriously, you are actually validating the worry. YOU took the question seriously, so it must have been an appropriate thing to worry about!

      I saw this with little kids at the emergency/backup daycare center that my own kid was a “regular” at. A kid would be nervous, “stay with me, Mommy, this place is a little scary to me.” And Mom would say, ” Oh, sure, honey, I’ll stay.” I could see most of those kids –immediately– rev up with fear.
      Because–Mom just said, “It’s reasonable for you to be scared.”

      For the kids whose mom said, “Oh, don’t be silly, this is a GREAT place, these people are nice, and there’s a treehouse! I’ll see you later, bye!” and walked out the door, I could almost see the thoughts going through their head:
      Mom just left me here. She must think this place is safe. So it must BE safe.

      The only way to deal with anxiety (as opposed to a serious concern) is to treat it as though it is silly–and as though it is NOT a serious concern.

      1. That makes a lot of sense, thank you! I never thought about it that way. I’m the opposite – if someone explains something to me logically, it helps soothe my anxiety, so my first response to is explain. Sarcasm and jokes just make me think the person isn’t listening to me and I get more anxious/annoyed.

      2. Here’s the thing about anxiety–if you respond to it with reason or take it seriously, you are actually validating the worry. YOU took the question seriously, so it must have been an appropriate thing to worry about!

        Yep. It’s the same principle as refusing to argue with/try to convince someone about an issue that is none of their business: by engaging with them on the subject, you are validating that they are allowed any input on it.

  61. I have found that baffling people like LW’s MIL are using their brains in a way that is different. We are all discussing this situation like everything is connected: which of course it is.

    But to brains like MIL, it’s all a set of sealed Tupperware containers. She wants to be hospitable and urges LW to wear “at home” clothing. But to her, this has nothing to do with announcing “it’s time to leave” because… well, her brain is full of sealed containers. The gears literally don’t mesh.

    It’s “mindblindness.” I’m sure if LW thought about it, there are other instances where MIL acts without any knowledge of how other people are being affected by her behavior, like here, where she seems to expect LW to attend dinner out in her pajamas. MIL is only thinking of how she, herself, is perceived from the outside, and what makes her project the persona she wants. It’s like they have learned rote routines without understanding how such routines mesh together.

    And if it is about anxieties; we all know how anxiety short-circuits thinking even when we are aware of it. And even after repeated instances, MIL is not picking up on how she’s “off” about this.

    So there’s no understanding it. Only dealing with it.

    1. I like the Tupperware analogy.

      Also, I really enjoyed your podcasts and wish there were more. You have given me much food for thought and insights into my kitties, and I think they are happier now that I pay closer attention to their communication.

  62. Hi LW. I’m also an introvert. Some details in your post stood out to me. I’ve had similar experiences with extended family. They live in a very small town, and I moved to this town recently. I hardly knew them, and looked forward to developing a relationship. Here are some of the similarities: 1) They are offended if I’m not available when they want to see me. 2) They insist I do certain things (and don’t do others). For example, they criticize me for exercising and eating healthy foods. 3) They often don’t communicate plans ahead of time but I’m expected to be ready and willing to participate. 4) They often suggest I act in ways that put me in positions that are uncomfortable at best and harmful at worst. One example of harmful is their pressuring me to drink alcohol when they know I have to drive home.

    I’ve found it helpful with my extended family to keep the following in mind: Are they considering my health and well-being? If I act in accordance with their suggestions, will the result be healthy and positive? Is there room for me, the real me, in my relationship with my extended family?

    Best of luck LW!

    1. they criticize me for exercising and eating healthy foods
      Because donchaknow, you’re doing it to show off and/or shame them, not because you could possibly *want* to do these things for yourself, right? If you would just stop exercising *at* them…

      1. Thanks BigDogLittleCat for your insight. It helps me to understand my extended family a bit better.

        1. Because bottom line is that nothing is about you/everything is about them including the food you put in your mouth and the movements of your own body. That is the basic foundation of everything in these people’s thinking.

          1. And thank you Black Lab because this conversation has made me realize something. In my world, it’s not food and exercise. My mother makes fun of me for being organized. I’m not terribly neat and clean, but I do like to file/throw away papers when they get piled up too high, and I do like to put important things away so I can find them again. My home isn’t some model of tidiness, but my desk isn’t piled a foot high with newspaper articles I mean to read some day mixed in with bills I might or might not have paid, letters I might or might not have answered, and scraps of paper reminding me of appointments from several years ago. I don’t have to eat dinner in some little space I cleared away from medicines and projects. Yet all my life, my mother has complained about my “anal tendencies”, my hysterically funny absurd way of keeping an appointment book, and returning books to the library after I’ve read them. She must not realize I do it that way because it’s easier. She thinks I’m showing her up!

        2. You’re welcome! The thing is to remember that it’s not about what you are doing; it’s about how they perceive their own behavior relative to yours.

          On some level they think they “should” be doing what you are doing and if only they can get you to do what they’re doing, it’ll make their behavior okay.
          Your not drinking alcohol reminds them that they “shouldn’t” either. Your eating healthfully reminds them they “should” eat the same. Every time you exercise it reminds them they “should” exercise too, so if you’d just sit down it would ease their mind.
          If they would just recognize it as simply, “darn, I should do that too” it wouldn’t be a big deal.
          But some people are so uncomfortable being responsible for their own behavior that they twist it around in their heads to make their bad feelings your fault, so it’s not that they have a guilty conscience, it’s that you’re being judgmental.

          If they could own their own behavior and be responsible for their own feelings they could come to grips with the “should” in their heads and they’d either join you or accept that you can do your thing while they’ll do theirs.

          Jedi hugs!

          1. Thanks for explaining that! Americans have a guilt complex about drinking, thanks to that country’s Puritan heritage. If someone doesn’t want to drink, I think, “Cool, more for me and the rest of us.”

            It is also very toxic to push alcohol on those who don’t want any. That person could be driving home, be a designated driver, pregnant, have a medical condition, taking medicine that does not play well with booze, or be in recovery, for starters. Forcing those people to drink can have serious or fatal consequences.

  63. Frankly, the entire idea of ‘I’m wearing this thing (ANY thing) around the house and now I’m going to go out while still wearing said thing’ is strange to me; my policy has always been to change 5 milliseconds before departure and then flee the house immediately without touching any surfaces, lest I become accessorized with a thin coating of dog hair.

    Especially considering some of the other things you’ve said in this thread about your MIL making ‘oh, you silly trendy introverts’-esque remarks, I’d personally throw in a vote for seeing if there’s *any* way to not stay with them on future visits. Sure, she’ll pitch a fit and cast you as The Difficult One. Sounds like she’s already doing that when you try to enforce any boundaries whatsoever, so what do you have to lose?

    Failing that, I suppose you could plan a going-out outfit for each day, even though you don’t yet know when or if going out is happening. If it’s already picked and laid out in your room, you can quickly shimmy into it after ducking into said room on the pretext of ‘Okay, just let me grab my purse/shoes/sweater’, as others have suggested.

  64. This is so helpful as I have been thinking about writing in with a similar question. I love to dress up. It makes me feel good. I work an outdoor labour job Mon-Fri and during that time I am covered in mud in torn up jeans and sweaters and steel toes, so it’s a treat for me to actually do my hair and wear make up and a nice dress and pretty shoes. My boyfriend’s sister in law always gives me a hard time about how I’m dressed at family events and insists that I come more casually even though I told her that this is what I’m comfortable in. At first I thought she was giving me a cheeky compliment, but it’s happened pretty much every time so I think that she just doesn’t approve. But why does she need to approve??? Aghhkk It’s so awkward as she can’t get through a get together without making some weird comment.

    Anyway I think your answer about it being about her own internal weirdness as she has with a false smile accused me of “making her look bad”.
    Next time I’m just going to tell her she always looks great and change the subject.

  65. One of the advantages of maturing as an adult is these types of things become easier with experience. Basically, learning how to say “no – I’m going to do X my way instead of yours because that’s how I prefer it.” is an essential life-skill.

    My script: “I’d rather wear my street clothes when I go out because that’s just how I am”. Then shrug and smile at any protestations. Maybe add a “sorry – it’s just how I am” if they really push.

    It’s pretty much impossible to reasonably argue with that.

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